The Government’s Living with Covid Plan (published on 21st February) marked the end of most mandatory restrictions for the general population but reminded us that COVID-19 will continue to be with us for some time to come.
Whilst the plan confirmed the ending of free community testing after 1st April - following successful lobbying by the sector - the government announced on 29th March that free testing would continue for staff and residents in ‘high risk’ homelessness settings (along with other social care and high risk settings). The details of the arrangements for homelessness settings, including which settings are likely to be given access to free tests and how tests will be supplied, are still being worked on and may not emerge for some weeks.
Providers and commissioners of homelessness services will no doubt be continuing to review the measures they are taking to minimise spread of the virus within their settings. To this end its worth noting the government has published updated guidance for hostel and night shelter settings. These appear to have been updated to reflect the ending of legal restrictions although don’t as yet reflect changes to testing.
The updated guidance for hostels and night shelters continues to emphasise that sharing of facilties increases risk of spread and recommends providers continue to undertake daily symptom monitoring with residents (against the recently updated list of symptoms) as well increasing ventilation, use of face coverings in close-contact areas and symptomatic testing of residents and staff. The guidance also states that residents with symptoms or a positive test result should not share communal facilities and ‘ideally’ should have self contained accommodation (or be cohorted with other positive cases). Healthy London Partnerships hosted a useful webinar on 21st April with updated guidance from health professionals for London’s homelessness sector which could equally be useful to service providers outside the capital. The webinar recording is available on their website.
The guidance also emphasises the continued importance of vaccination and efforts to increase take up amongst people experiencing homeless. Good practice and learning continues to emerge on the best ways to do this. Healthy London Partnerships has worked with Expert Focus to produce a series of short films of conversations in which people with lived experience of homelessness talk about their decisions to take up the COVID-19 vaccine. These could be used in a number of ways to promote conversations with users of homelessness services.
Homeless Link and Groundswell are also about to launch a toolkit to support services to increase vaccination take up amongst people experiencing homelessness. This will include four short videos aimed at staff in the homelessness sector covering different aspects of vaccination such as rights and access, importance of workforce relationships, motivational interviewing and vaccine incentives. A new leaflet for people experiencing homelessness will also be available. The new toolkit will be added to our existing COVID-19 resources in the next few weeks.