Social distancing almost impossible in temporary accommodation, says Shelter

The Government needs to provide emergency support for families living in shared temporary accommodation, where it can be “almost impossible” to follow NHS isolation guidance, homelessness charity Shelter has said.

Last week, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick claimed 90% of rough sleepers have been offered a place to live during the coronavirus crisis, but Shelter says more needs to be done for those not on the streets.

“The Government has acted swiftly in recent weeks with strong emergency measures and funding to help people sleeping rough during the coronavirus pandemic, but homeless families in shared and one-room temporary accommodation are still waiting for the same kind of emergency support,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter.

Coronavirus – Fri Apr 3, 2020
Coronavirus – Fri Apr 3, 2020

“The trauma of homelessness is only being magnified by Coronavirus. For the thousands of families with children currently stuck in cramped emergency B&Bs and hostels, it can be almost impossible to follow NHS isolation guidance.

“These families are sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers, living in a single room or even sharing a bed – causing fear and anxiety levels to skyrocket for many.”

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said this week that 344 people in his area had been recorded as newly homeless and requiring accommodation since the coronavirus lockdown began.

Shelter’s call comes as another charity, Homeless Friendly, described the Government’s work to help rough sleepers during the coronavirus outbreak as “inadequate” and raised concerns over healthcare access.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Investitures at Buckingham Palace

Dr Zahid Chauhan, founder of Manchester-based charity Homeless Friendly, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 11 warning that rough sleepers’ living conditions could be the “perfect breeding ground for viruses to spread” and calling for special measures. He said he had received no response.

“I tried to make a reasonable case of saying it’s not only to protect these people who are already marginalised … but also it makes economic sense because you don’t want these people to spread the infection,” Dr Chauhan told the PA news agency.

The GP and Labour councillor’s charity focuses on encouraging GPs to allow rough sleepers into their clinics, for which he received an OBE last year.

In England, those seeking medical advice about suspected coronavirus are asked not to attend a GP practice, pharmacy or hospital and to utilise online resources or call 111, but Dr Chauhan says “most” rough sleepers do not have a phone or access to the internet.

“How are they accessing their health care facilities? This is a big unknown,” said Dr Chauhan.

“We know from speaking to people that they are struggling.

“I have to drive around because I’m a GP and I’m on call and I still see people on the street corners. I speak to them and ask them to contact services, but they say they can’t.”

PA has contacted the Local Government Association and the Department for Health and Social Care on these homelessness issues, but has not yet received a response.