The message from government over the past 5 weeks has been to “Stay Home,” “Protect the NHS” and to “Save Lives”. These measures have been seen as crucial in the fight to overcome coronavirus. However, for over 300,000 people in the UK, following this guidance is not easy, and for some, it is impossible. There are an estimated 320,000 homeless individuals in the UK. 2019 data suggests that on a “typical night”, 4,266 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on the streets of England (Homeless Link, 2020). During the coronavirus pandemic, this puts those without permanent housing in a unique and dangerous position, and leads to the question: how can homeless people possibly be expected to stay safe during this crisis?
Much of the advice and guidance provided by the government is only applicable to the general population. Measures such as staying home, keeping good hygiene practices and social distancing can prove to be almost impossible for those with unstable housing situations. According to the homeless charity Shelter, for “thousands of families with children currently stuck in cramped emergency B&Bs and hostels, it can be almost impossible to follow NHS isolation guidance” (Shelter, 2020).
Those residing in crowded temporary housing are not able to socially distance from others, and if one individual in the residence were to contract Covid-19, it puts everyone in the building at high risk. Furthermore, those sleeping rough, are unable to “stay at home”, distance from others or maintain hygiene like regular hand washing. This is not only a problem for physical health, but also for mental health, as the anxiety and fear of being infected is likely to be heightened in crowded situations or when living on the streets.
One’s housing situation itself is a social determinant of health, with homeless individuals being more susceptible to health complications because of poor nutrition, compromised immune systems and an increased level of respiratory disorders (Crisis, 2020). Those who sleep rough have a life expectancy 30 years lower than the average person (Office of National Statistics, 2018). Homeless charities are becoming increasingly concerned, that as well as being at higher risk, those without permanent housing may struggle to access the health services they might require during the pandemic (Shelter, 2020).
Despite government measures to ensure that all rough sleepers are housed in appropriate emergency accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic, there are a number of challenges that the homeless population still face. Unfortunately, not everyone without a home is eligible for the scheme. Those with certain immigration statuses, such as refused asylum seekers or those who have not formally applied as homeless to their local councils cannot benefit from this measure. This once again leaves a section of society unprotected in this uncertain time.
Maintaining the physical and mental health of all people during this pandemic is paramount. It must not be forgotten that the homeless population still make up part of our society and it must be ensured that they are not excluded from social, economic and health policy.
Post by Rebecca Mutsatsa
Crisis. (2020). Crisis Emergency Fund. Retrieved from Crisis : https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/in-this-together/?meganav=1
Glenton, J. (2018). Research shows that many rough sleepers have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. Retrieved from Riverside: https://www.riverside.org.uk/rough-sleepers/
Homeless Link. (2020). Rough sleeping. Retrieved from homeless.org: https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis
Office of National Statistics. (2018). Deaths of homeless people in England and Wales: 2013 to 2017. Office of National Statistics.
Shelter(2020, Mar 17). Shelter Press Releases. Retrieved from Shelter: https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_releases/articles/shelter_responds_to_3.2_million_emergency_support_for_rough_sleepers_during_coronavirus_outbreak
Wall, T. (2020, Apr 12). Cramped living conditions may be accelerating UK spread of coronavirus. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/virus-hitting-hardest-modern-equivalent-victorian-slums
The Lancet. (2020). Covid-19: a potential public health problem for homeless populations. The Lancet, 5.