#COVID-19Inequalities! ‘We're Locked-down but others are Locked-out’: Lock-downs and the Plight of Freetown's Homeless

May 18, 2020

Tanzila Sankoh giving out freshly cooked meals to the homeless in Freetown during lock-down ©UNDP Sierra Leone.

#Humanity matters.

It is Ramathan. She is observing. 

Earlier on that evening, the president announced another three-days of lock down. Her heart is unsettled because there are some people going to be locked out. Not locked out from homes, no, because they don’t have homes. So, they are locked out from means of survival - basic, yet very important for life and livelihood.

This was one of our staff Ms. Tanzila Watta Sankoh – Team Lead of the ‘Sustainability and Inclusive Local Economic Development’ cluster in Sierra Leone on the night of May 2nd, 2020. 

Having observed the suffering of the homeless and helpless street dwellers of Freetown during the last lock-down, Tanzila decided to do something as a person, as a human being, as a daughter of the soil-Sierra Leone, and, as a staff member of the United Nations. 

What can I do? What could we do? Yes, the UN through World Food Programme (WFP) is already providing food relief to vulnerable people through the Government of Sierra Leone but, few if any of these people [street dwellers] would have accessed this food given their circumstances and societal attitudes towards them. And, if they do get the dry foods, how will they have it cooked? They are homeless! These thoughts boggled her mind.

I, We must do something!

At around 4:00AM she decided to start calling (and texting when they never picked up) fellow staff members to join her and UNDP’s efforts to not leave the homeless behind during the lockdown. It may not be much but the gestures is what matters most…showing that we care and that we are together in this matters a lot more. Just come and support” she would tell half-sleepy colleagues on phone. By the break of dawn, she had some staff and members of “our good old friends” the One family People (OFP) – a civil society organization that advocates for the rights of Persons With Disabilities with her. Together they quickly pooled resources and organized freshly cooked meals and drinking water which they served to over 300 homeless people, persons with disabilities and street children in Freetown. 

“It is sad to see that there are people out here with nothing to survive on during the lock-down. With this gesture, we would like to ease both the physical and emotional impacts of the 3-day national COVID-19 lockdown on the homeless”. Tanzila Sankoh.

Moved by the outcome of the action, the UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Samuel Doe said, “we would like to continue helping out in this area not just as a one-off but more often during this pandemic more especially during the lock-downs.”

Indeed, Ms. Tanzila is set to continue providing meals for the homeless and helpless in Freetown…”if I had it in my powers I would do it for the entire country’s homeless because Freetown is not Sierra Leone, we have so many people on the streets, many with disabilities from the Civil War, others are even Ebola orphans.”

While dry food items are being distributed to vulnerable communities and individuals as part of the national response to COVID-19, the ‘wet-feeding’ approach is an intervention are yet to venture into. Tanzila is currently soliciting funds to scale-up the ‘act of kindness’ in the event of another lock-down. 

“It truly leaves no one behind because it caters for those society has forgotten like those with mental illnesses who will not get the dry foods because they are not accounted for, in our world they are invisible and ostracized, yet they are also people. Thanks to UNDP for this thoughtful act of kindness.” Edward Emmanuel, team Leader, One Family People.