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The BIG Drive Home

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Homeless lives at risk from ‘double threat’ of COVID winter, warn charities

Written by on 8 October 2020

Homeless people are facing a “double threat” of coronavirus and cold weather this winter which could see more deaths, charities have warned.

A coalition of 17 health and homeless organisations including Crisis, St Mungo’s and several royal colleges has called for government action to keep homeless people off the streets and in accommodation where they can socially distance.

The group fears that people could be forced into communal night shelters where social distancing is “all but impossible” and the risk of transmission is high.

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Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said the reality of what could happen over the winter was “terrifying”.

“Predictions of deaths among people who have nowhere else to go, other than our streets, or sleeping in communal night shelters that are not COVID-secure, must act as a wake-up call to government,” he said.

“We cannot have hundreds, or even thousands, of people forced to live in crowded places, where proper social distancing is impossible, and the risk of coronavirus transmission is incredibly high.”

The coalition is calling for a repeat of the government’s Everyone In scheme, which moved almost 15,000 homeless people in England into safe emergency accommodation such as hotels at the start of the pandemic.

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Research published in the Lancet suggests the lives of 266 homeless people were saved by preventative measures including the use of hotels, closing dormitory-style communal shelters and increased infection control measures in hostels in England during the first wave of the outbreak.

However, the University College London study warned relaxing measures in homeless settings could lead to more than 12,000 new infections, 184 deaths and 733 hospital admissions – even without a second wave.

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Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We know that the efforts made to support homeless people during the first phase of the pandemic were truly life-saving. As we enter a second wave of COVID-19, these steps need to happen again.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re determined to protect the most vulnerable in society – we took decisive action during the pandemic to protect hundreds of lives by bringing nearly 15,000 people into safe accommodation.

“Councils have been given over GBP4.8bn of emergency funding to deal with the immediate pressures of the pandemic – including support for rough sleepers – and over GBP91m in funding for interim accommodation and support services for those at risk of rough sleeping.”