The challenge of living under lockdown in cramped conditions

Coronavirus restrictions are particularly hard on families living in single rooms or tiny apartments, especially when they have children

The room where John, his wife, and his two adult nephews spend the vast majority of their time during lockdown (photo courtesy of John)
The room where John, his wife, and his two adult nephews spend the vast majority of their time during lockdown (photo courtesy of John) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 2, 2020 12:33 PM

Spending so much time at home with little opportunity to leave during the coronavirus lockdown is a challenge for anyone. Yet, if you live in a single room, a tiny apartment, or your home is not in good condition, then that challenge becomes all the greater. 

John, his wife, and his two nephews know what it is to live cooped up in a cramped space, as they are living in one room with two bunk beds provided by social services after they were evicted from their home some days before the state of alarm was declared.

What's more, John and his family have to share a kitchen, dining room, and bathroom with other people. "It's not like being in your own home, where you have everything you need, here we are limited," says John, who adds that being a "united family" helps. 

Julia does not have to share facilities with anyone but the single mother and her three small children live in a small ground floor apartment in the Ciutat Meridiana neighborhood. "It's not easy at all," she says, "it's small, quite damp and there's no water heater."

A few streets away in the same area, Omar and his wife live with their three children, aged 11, 8 and 6. The apartment they moved to in 2010 is also modest. "The flat is small and narrow, and there are problems among the kids," says Omar.

Managing with children poses a challenge

Managing the children is one of Julia's main concerns, and she explains that the first week under lockdown was "awful" because one child was ill and she was reluctant to call the emergency services and did not know who she could leave the other children with.

"It's distressing for me and the children," says Julia, whose children are 11, 5 and just over a year. "Although you want to get organized, with timetables, it's not the same as before because it's another dynamic shut up in a few meters of space," she says.

Meanwhile, Omar talks about fights breaking out between his children, who have to share the apartment's one television and who have nowhere outside to play: "The apartment is small and there is no outdoor space," he says.

Lack of space a major problem

John also says that the lack of space is a problem, as the room he and his family share is small. He points out that there is nowhere for anyone to self-isolate. "If one of us gets the virus, we all live in the same room and that means there's more risk," he says.

He also points out that living in such conditions is hard on his wife, who has to share the room all day long with three men - John's nephews are 18 and 25 - and he adds that there is very little privacy for them to live as a couple.

Boredom is also an issue that the four are finding hard to manage, as all they have for entertainment is one computer between them. John says that 95% of their time is spent in the room and they only leave to use the common kitchen or bathroom.  

Financial situation a cause for concern

One thing that all of them share is concern about their financial situation. Omar says he has no income right now, and the restrictions mean he can no longer go into the streets to look for scrap metal to sell, and so now he only leaves the apartment to buy food. 

As for John, his wife was looking after an elderly person but the family decided to take over the care themselves during the lockdown, while the calls John used to get from time to time offering him building work have now dried up.

It is for that reason that the family took it so hard when the state of alarm was extended. "You need the economy to live and in the situation we now find ourselves in we have no stable work or documentation," he says.