‘Explosion’ in coronavirus numbers among London homeless

Homeless healthcare charity, Pathway, called the figures ‘very worrying’

Eleanor Sly
Wednesday 03 February 2021 18:37 GMT
Currently funding in place for emergency accommodation for the homeless will only remain until March 
Currently funding in place for emergency accommodation for the homeless will only remain until March  (Getty Images)

There has been an “explosion” in numbers of Covid-19 cases in London in the past month, according to research carried out by a team at University College London (UCL).

In January alone, UCL Hospitals’ Find & Treat service recorded 127 cases of coronavirus among the capital’s homeless population, compared to 28 cases recorded in April 2020.

The “specialist outreach” service works with the NHS and other front-line services primarily to “tackle TB among homeless people.” However, they have also been documenting numbers of Covid-19 cases in the homeless community.

Dr Al Story, Clinical Lead and Manager for Find & Treat and Co-Director of the Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health at UCL, told The Independent: "We have diagnosed three times as many cases in January alone as we diagnosed during the whole of 2020.”

Dr Story added: “The emergency accommodation available was absolutely at capacity making social distancing almost impossible.”

The results published on Twitter, show the team recorded 85 cases of Covid between April and December last year. Shockingly, the number of cases recorded in January 2021 was over seven times higher than the 17 recorded in December 2020.

Binta Sultan, a doctoral fellow at the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, shared the results on Twitter, calling for the vaccination of homeless people to be “urgently” implemented. Dr Sultan added that there had “been an explosion in cases and outbreaks in the homeless in the last month.”

These results contrast sharply with the way in which the government tackled homelessness in the first coronavirus lockdown. In March 2020 the UK government implemented the “Everyone In” scheme. Councils were given £3.2m to help provide those living on the streets with emergency accommodation and rough sleepers were given temporary places to stay in hotels and hostels.

The scheme began over fears about the impact Coronavirus could have on the homeless and was widely praised. In May, according to Dame Louise Casey, the Prime Minister’s advisor on rough sleeping, “close to 15,000 people across England” were helped by the scheme.  An article in The Lancet went as far as to estimate that the measures had prevented over 21,000 infections and saved 266 lives.

Yet in June, as Covid restrictions were gradually reduced and the first lockdown lifted, the government quietly altered funding in a decision which the homelessness charity Crisis called: "completely unacceptable."

According to figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, over 90,000 households were living in temporary accommodation in the period July to September 2020, up seven per cent on the same time period the year before.

Homeless healthcare charity, Pathway, called the Find & Treat’s findings of a rise in Covid-19 cases “very worrying” and called for London to begin vaccinating those living on its streets.

Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Residential Development, Tom Copley, together with Dr Tom Coffey, the Mayor of London’s health advisor have also called for the government to vaccinate the city’s homeless. 

In a letter to Public Health England, the pair said that “the window of opportunity presented by emergency accommodation" should be maximised to “protect public health.” They went on to add that a vaccination programme of the homeless needed to begin. 

Currently, funding for emergency accommodation for the homeless is set to remain in place only until the end of March. Dr Story emphasised: “If the emergency accommodation closes again, I fear we are back to square one.”

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