Coronavirus: Islington Council will provide temporary accommodation where rough sleepers can self-isolate during pandemic

A person uses disinfectant hand gel. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 4, 2020. See PA story H

A person uses disinfectant hand gel. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 4, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Islington Council will provide temporary accommodation where homeless people can self-isolate during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

On the street... rough sleeper portrayed by model Andrew [photos: Sam Mellish]

On the street... rough sleeper portrayed by model Andrew [photos: Sam Mellish] - Credit: Sam Mellish

Islington’s housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward also promised on Tuesday that no council tenants will be evicted for the next three months – and he’s called on housing association to make the same commitment.

It comes after the government made £3.2million available on Tuesday to reimburse local authorities’ costs for providing emergency accommodation to rough sleepers who suffer from or are at risk of catching coronavirus.

The cash will be used to support people, such as those staying in shelters, who need somewhere to isolate where they’ll receive support and be less likely to pass the virus to others.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England said: “People sleeping rough are often in poor health and are particularly vulnerable. That’s why this funding is so important, ensuring that rough sleepers who get symptoms have somewhere safe and protective to stay, and helping to prevent the spread of the infection.”

But Islington’s Covid-19 homeless task force, which was created last week, is calling on the government to go further and block book hotel rooms with bathrooms where homeless people can safely self-isolate.

The task force has also suggested vacant student halls of residence could be used for the same purpose.

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Cllr Ward says he knows of at least one homeless person who is already self-isolating in temporary accommodation provided by the council.

Cllr Ward said: “As the situation progresses we obviously don’t have unlimited temporary accommodation funding and need a national lead on procuring more accommodation, whether that in the form of hotel with bathrooms or empty student halls.”

Carla Ecola, project director at LGBTQI+ homeless charity The Outside Project, which Is part of Islington’s task force, told the Gazette: “We should be looking at the homeless as an aged population. If we had a group of 70 to 80 year olds wondering the streets right now everyone would be up in arms about it

“Homeless people die at fifty, so if they’re in their 30s or 40s actually they’re at that age of vulnerability. And when you read the public health guidance that’s not something that’s being taken into consideration. The homeless population are the most aged that we have.”

A 68-year-old man who attended the first task force meeting said he’s been homeless on and off for the past 35 year.

He is blind in one eye, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes. The man has been advised to avoid unnecessary contact with people because his health conditions mean he’s in a high risk group of catching Covid-19.

He told the Gazette: “I have been rough sleeping for a long time and then I was in and out of hospitals. Back on the streets, in hospital. I’m in temporary accommodation now on the outskirts of Islington. I have got to be careful because the medicines I’m taking knock the hell out of my immune system. So if anything comes around like chest infections I get it’s I have to be very careful.”

He went to a walk-in clinic on Thursday last week and was given three-months worth of medicine so he doesn’t need to return soon.

Reflecting on his situation, he said: “It is worrying, I think even the government is unsure of how to cope and deal with it.”

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “Public safety and protecting the most vulnerable people in society from coronavirus is this government’s top priority. We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need throughout this period.

“The initial funding that I’ve announced will ensure councils are able to put emergency measures in place to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society to successfully self-isolate.

I would urge anyone who is concerned about someone sleeping rough to use the government’s StreetLink app to alert local support services who can reach out to those in need at this difficult time.”