Boosting health of street homeless could be "silver lining" of pandemic

Thursday 16 July 2020

homelessness nurses

Nurses from Guy's and St Thomas' are providing essential health checks and treatment to hundreds of street homeless people living temporarily in the Capital's hotels during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nurses from the Health Inclusion Team care for more than 300 people at hotels in Waterloo, Clapham and Camberwell. They look after vulnerable people housed in local hostels as well as rough sleepers accommodated under the 'Everyone In' scheme, set up by the Mayor of London in March 2020, to provide safe, temporary accommodation to people sleeping rough during the pandemic. 

The nurses advise people sleeping rough how to look after long-term conditions like Hepatitis C and kidney disease, care for wounds, screen for diseases like HIV and give medication. Nurses also ensure that patients register with a GP, so they can continue to receive healthcare once they move on from the hotel and emergency accommodation provided during the outbreak.

Kendra Schneller, a homelessness nurse with the Health Inclusion Team at Guy's and St Thomas’, said: "People who sleep on our streets are entitled to receive healthcare, as is everyone. With COVID-19 we are having to adapt how we run our services and to think on our feet more. But we are still here for our patients."

An estimated 4,200 street homeless people in London were moved into temporary hotel and emergency accommodation during the pandemic, having previously lived on the streets, in night shelters, airports or been ‘sofa surfing’.

Samantha Dorney-Smith, an outreach nurse and Secretary to the London Network of Nurses and Midwives Homelessness Group, said: "There's no doubt that this scheme has been absolutely vital. The 'Everyone In' programme has stopped people getting COVID-19 and definitely saved lives. We've given vulnerable people a period of respite. It's been a huge emergency response and it's been successful.

"It's interesting to see people settle so well and quickly. They are now more engaged with their health, have been given new clothes, fed properly, received support for addictions and mental health, and counselling – treated with respect and dignity."

A range of organisations including the Blackfriars Medical Practice, Waterloo Health Centre, Lambeth Walk Group Practice, Guy's and St Thomas' Health Inclusion team, Lorraine Hewitt House and CGL drug and alcohol services, the Homeless Outreach Team (START) for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Pathway GPs and the Healthy London Partnership (Homeless Health), and various charities like Look Ahead and Depaul UK, are working together to support street homeless people living in temporary hotel accommodation in Lambeth and Southwark. 

They have enabled people to access health, addiction, mental health, housing and other services under one roof.

Nick Wing, a Service Manager for Depaul UK, said: "One of the most important things is that we have built up trust with people. Having support that is easily accessible and a team of experts that are consistently there – who get to know residents and understand the issues they are facing – has been very important."  

Farah Ahmed, Emergency Accommodation Manager for Look Ahead, who are coordinating the pandemic response services supporting vulnerable people in two London hotels, said: "It's an amazing project. We are trying to help as many people as possible, making sure that their longer-term health and other needs are taken care of.

"If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, then this is one of them. So many professional teams coming together, if not to end rough sleeping in London, then at least to reduce the number of people on our streets."


Last updated: March 2022

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