How can councils prepare homelessness services for a second wave?

By John Glenton | 09 October 2020

There have now been more than one million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide.

We know that people experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to the virus due to the increased possibility of transmission in shared accommodation and the increased probability of additional health problems among those affected by homelessness.

Since the start of the pandemic approximately 15,000 vulnerable people across England have been housed in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation. People affected by homelessness living in multi-occupancy supported accommodation or in COVID-PROTECT accommodation have been offered testing when symptomatic. On occasion mass screening has been undertaken.

A research study on the transmission of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness in England was published in The Lancet in September. The study was not aware of any outbreaks in homelessness settings in England to date.

The results of the study, by researchers at University College London, suggests that closing dormitory-style accommodation and increasing infection control in single-room accommodation has contributed to the absence of outbreaks.

During the first wave of COVID-19 in England, the researchers estimate that measures introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19 among people affected by homelessness helped to prevent 21,092 infections, 1,164 hospital admissions, 338 ICU admissions and 266 deaths. Councils and homelessness service providers across the country deserve recognition for helping to keep people safe during this global pandemic.

However, now the health emergency is returning. Britain’s R Rate (the reproduction rate of COVID-19 across the nation) is now estimated to be between 1.3 and 1.6 — the highest rate since before Britain’s national lockdown in March.

There are now more than nine cities in England with infection rates above 200 per 100,000 people including Liverpool and Manchester.

As we move towards the winter months and freezing night time temperatures it is now more important than ever to prevent rough sleeping and stop the spread of COVID-19 among people affected by homelessness.

How should council homelessness services prepare for a second wave?

As one of Britain’s largest providers of supported housing for those affected by homelessness, Riverside has either managed or provided people to support the management of emergency accommodation nationwide during COVID-19, including hotels in Liverpool, Manchester and London.

Ahead of a potential second wave we believe it is important to share the best practice we developed during the first wave to help our council partners and colleagues and counterparts in the homelessness sector to help keep people affected by homelessness safe. And to keep staff safe.

Risk assessments: Organisations working in the homelessness sector should prepare to carry out riskassessments of residents and staff so team members are aware of those who at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions. New health conditions could have developed or existing health conditions could have changed since the first wave of Coronavirus so fresh risk assessments should be carried out for all.

Self-isolation plans: Plans for self-isolation should be developed for each customer to ensure that all of their basic needs can continue to be met, starting with people with high morbidity and health conditions.

Meeting customer needs and staying safe: Preparations need to be made to work with families and care providers to help meet the needs of customers who need to self-isolate. Specific guidance should be developed for colleagues who must continue to have face-to-face contact with those in high-risk and vulnerable groups.

People affected by homeless often do not have access to family support networks to help them so providers like ourselves are needed to provide practical and emotional support to help people self-isolate.

During the first wave Riverside arranged to make regular support calls to customers with additional needs daily, every few days or once a week depending on need.

Advice and information: One-to-one conversations with residents should occur as soon as possible after plans to deal with a second wave are activated. One-to-one conversations to pass on the latest advice and guidance should take place on aregular, on-going basis.

Keeping people socially connected and physically distant: Social distancing is not the correct term to be using for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. We want people to be physically distant but remain social connected.

As such Riverside made £50,000 of funding available to customers to enable them to have access to the internet to communicate with friends and family during the COVID pandemic.

We would encourage our council partners and colleagues in the homelessness sector to look at whether they can provide funding for devices and 4G connections to enable people to stay in contact with friends, family and support workers.The vast majority of people have experienced a difficult past six months. Fatigue with the rules needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus has become a concern among the general population. We cannot allow fatigue, boredom or over-familiarisation to set in. 

We must all remain vigilant in order to minimise the spread of COVID-19. As we move towards the winter months and freezing night time temperatures it is now more important than ever to work together to keep people off the streets and keep people safe. Let’s all be ready to tackle and overcome this threat again.

To view the full COVID-19 guidance in more detail visit: https://www.riverside.org.uk/coronavirus/

John Glenton is executive director of care and support at supported housing provider Riverside

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