How we are protecting people sleeping rough during COVID-19

Wednesday, 8 April 2020 - 3:00pm

Matt Harrison, StreetLink’s Director, explains what measures government, homelessness services and StreetLink are taking to support those sleeping on our streets during the Coronavirus crisis.

People who are homeless or sleeping rough are typically in the high risk group for COVID-19. Many have long-term health conditions that could result in severe consequences should they or a member of staff providing support become infected with the virus.  Some of these long-term conditions can also mask COVID-19, making it more difficult to identify.

In addition, they are often unable to follow the public health guidance around hand washing and hygiene - particularly now that many services, community hubs and facilities have closed – or to effectively social distance or self-isolate.  

Following recommendations from their Covid-19 and homelessness advisor, Dame Louise Casey, and calls from homelessness services, the Government has recognised the urgent need to protect those sleeping on our streets. On 27 March, it wrote to all councils in the UK, instructing them to immediately house those in their communities who are sleeping rough, and a huge effort is now underway across the country to make this happen.

Councils are working alongside homelessness services and community organisations to find housing from hotel rooms, to student accommodation and private rented flats and to settle people who are sleeping rough into these rooms. Local areas are being advised to take a triage approach, so that people who are rough sleeping are placed in cohorts, ensuring that the best support is given depending on that individual's COVID-19 status.

This work is backed by Government funding of £3.2 million to help people who are sleeping rough to self-isolate with accommodation and resources, and a further £2.9 billion that has been given to councils to support vulnerable people, including people who are homeless. 

Adapting and innovating

Services are having to change the way they provide support and are demonstrating remarkable resilience and innovation in handling this crisis, in order to protect the people they support and the wider communities that they work in. For example, some support is being offered remotely, meals are being cooked and delivered to individuals and staff are being redeployed as needed.

Beyond this, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, with major homelessness charities liaising with the Government to make sure that people do not fall through the gaps but receive the support they need across a variety of issues.

At StreetLink, we continue to work tirelessly to connect people sleeping rough with the local outreach services, to ensure they can be moved into accommodation, and to adapt to our changing environment. We are receiving a higher volume of calls from rough sleepers themselves, and are channelling a lot of our resources into providing an advice line so that they know where to turn for help and are aware of how to protect themselves during the outbreak. You can read about the experiences of Adam, one of our lead phone line workers, below.

Actions you can take

The fight against Coronavirus within the homelessness community  is undoubtedly a huge humanitarian effort and one that we must all work together on. It cannot be solved overnight, and there are simple ways that you can help support this process that would be greatly appreciated – take a look at our 6 recommendations for action here.

What will be key in the coming months is that people brought in are not returned to the streets, but that the funding is in place to provide suitable housing and support to enable those who were previously rough sleeping to end their homelessness for good.

Talk To Us

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison

Deputy Chief Executive

Matt oversees our finances and central services functions and all our income-generation activity, including In-Form and fundraising. Matt was the chief executive of a specialist information charity that joined with Homeless Link in 2009. His background is in advice centres, day centres and hostels for homeless people in Coventry and London.

Telephone: 020 7840 4462
Email: matt.harrison@homelesslink.org.uk
Twitter: @homelesslink