Facing Homelessness in A Time of Pandemic: Combatting COVID-19
The UK’s homeless population is especially vulnerable to the crippling effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Those living on the street are unable to adhere to the governmental stipulation to self-isolate, while closures of food banks, soup kitchens, public toilets and day centres, have significantly increased the privation suffered by rough sleepers.
The first six recorded deaths of homeless people from Coronavirus have recently been announced by the newspaper the Observer. All of the victims, who have died since March, were associated with London hostels. There are fears that fatalities will continue to rise, in light of current conditions in the city’s hostels.
The governmental endeavour to protect the homeless has caused local councils to move many rough sleepers out of emergency night shelter dormitories into hotels. However, it is estimated that up to 35,000 people across the UK remain in hostels. Many homeless people are desperate to get off the streets and into accommodation, in order to escape both the health risk posed by COVID-19, and the resulting lack of accessibility to essential supplies. However, the unprecedented demand upon hostels has led to an alarming degree of overcrowding.
The initial findings of a survey undertaken by the UCL Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health has shown that the fatality rate for a homeless person living in a London hostel is 25 times higher than that of an adult member of the general public. At the time of the investigation, 38% of London hostels contained residents with suspected Coronavirus symptoms. 41% of affected residents were still sharing bathrooms with other residents, while 35% of the hostels with sick residents were continuing to make use of communal dining facilities. Since the announcement of these results, a minimum number of 17 additional residents have been admitted to hospital, demonstrating severe symptoms of Coronavirus.
The model produced by UCL projects a perturbing deterioration in the current situation. In the absence of swift action, during the next 3 to 4 months it is predicted that up to 12,000 hospital admissions and 900 deaths will occur among the homeless population.
On 26 March 2020, Rick Henderson, the CEO of Homeless Link, issued an emergency appeal to all London-based day centres to close immediately, to prevent the spread of Coronavirus to the most vulnerable members of society. Homeless Link has instead requested that all day centre staff, and other skilled volunteers, sign up to the London Hotels rota, to assist with the management of the hotels that have been converted into accommodation for the homeless during the pandemic.
In order to support the continued operations of DASH, in protecting Durham’s homeless during this national crisis, please consider making a donation.
Due to the critical demand created by the virus, the charity Shelter is in desperate need of extra funds to cover their software licences, in order that they are able to continue answering emergency calls.
To donate to Shelter’s emergency appeal, please visit: https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate
Eliminating Rough Sleeping
Homeless charity Crisis outlines five key principles for tackling rough sleeping:
Crisis argues that a fundamental step towards eradicating homelessness is altering the attitudes held by the public. The charity specifically highlights the importance of challenging the stereotypes centred around homeless people, including the archetypal perception that homelessness is inevitable.
Another leading UK homelessness charity, Homeless Link, places focus upon the prevention of homelessness, arguing that instituting preventative measures is a more effective approach than waiting until people are already subject to homelessness before offering assistance.
Homeless Link states that homelessness prevention requires a relationship between the charity and its service users, a holistic and flexible approach, collaboration between all relevant service providers, and well-trained staff. Homeless Link also calls upon the government to tackle the structural causes of homelessness by increasing the availability of affordable housing, reducing poverty, and diminishing the discrepancy between benefit levels and rents.
At DASH, we aim to provide our residents with the support they need to move into permanent accommodation, find secure employment and break the cycle of homelessness.
For further details, please consult:
 Tom Wall, ‘Fears of “catastrophic coronavirus outbreak” among homeless in hostels’, The Guardian, 19 April 2020 <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/19/fears-of-catastrophic-coronavirus-outbreak-among-homeless-in-hostels>
 Rick Henderson, ‘Emergency appeal for help’, Homeless Link, 26 March 2020 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2020/mar/26/emergency-appeal-for-help>