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 :


Glenton, J. (2018). Research shows that many rough sleepers have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. Retrieved from Riverside: 


Homeless Link. (2020). Rough sleeping. Retrieved from


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:



Wall, T. (2020, Apr 12). Cramped living conditions may be accelerating UK spread of coronavirus. Retrieved from The Guardian:



The Lancet. (2020). Covid-19: a potential public health problem for homeless populations. The Lancet, 5.

For everyone, the world has changed somewhat from how we knew it just five months ago. Our focus, not just individually but globally, has been abruptly switched from a milieu of issues to the pandemic of COVID-19. While many of us switch gears, slow down or take up new battles against this deadly virus, we are in danger of forgetting that the societal issues we were discussing just five months ago, are still there. Although many of these could now be left to languish in the shadows of the largest public health crisis for a century. As issues in the UK, such as an underfunded national health service come to the fore, others such as child poverty, domestic abuse or social inequality are exacerbated, but struggle for prominence. Around the world, wars, such as those in Yemen and Syria continue. Pro-democracy activists are quietly tucked away in Hong Kong and China, while the international community is distracted. As a public mental health crisis and economic recession loom on the horizon, we watch many neo-liberal leaders in western democracies, who previously told us that there is no magic money tree; now pour billions into starved public services and floundering economies. It’s of crucial importance at this time, that we all focus our efforts on fighting COVID-19. However, it is also important that we remain vigilant and remind those in power of potentially marginalised communities and issues that could be easily subsumed. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was reported by UK charities such as Refuge, that up to two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in England and Wales, when citing data published by the Office for National  Statistics (ONS) for April 2018 – March 2019[1]. Since lockdown conditions came into effect in March 2020, there have been increased calls for further provision to be made available for refuge services, and those fleeing domestic violence (DV). These calls have coincided with a spike in the reported incidence of DV[2] and an understanding amongst many agencies supporting affected families that public holidays, and periods of time when families are home, can precede a rise in such reports. It is estimated that since 2010, austerity has caused one in six refuges to close their doors[3]. It is arguably only now that the tragic lack of funding in this area is being realised. The government’s recent announcement of an emergency funding package worth 750 million for frontline charities is welcome, but for many organisations in this sector that are already under-resourced, the economic pressures are truly being felt. It is also worth noting here the current rates of child poverty in the UK. According to a report published by the Social Metrics Commission in July 2019, an estimated 4.6 million children in the UK live in poverty[4]. In the current climate, with support services reduced and initiatives such as free-school-meals suspended, there is a potential for these figures to increase. With rising unemployment and instability that will affect many, we will see those with the least economic resilience hit hardest. These issues and others like them were apparent before the pandemic and will continue to be during, and afterwards. Further consequences to vulnerable communities as a result of COVID-19 and the lockdown could potentially be moderated by ensuring that they do not fall from public consciousness.


[1] Refuge – Our Work
Office for National Statistics – How are victims and suspects related

[2] BBC news article – 27th April UK lockdown

The Guardian – Charges-and-cautions-for-domestic-violence-rise-by-24-in-london

[3] Independent – Domestic-abuse-refuges-government-funding-announcement – 2019