Homelessness support groups want housing secretary to fund Mildmay Hospital care for rough sleepers with coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 16:36 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:20 13 March 2020
Homelessness support groups are calling on housing secretary Robert Jenrick to “divert emergency funding” to an east London hospital so it can care for rough sleepers with coronavirus.
A letter from the Museum of Homelessness (MoH), grassroots outreach group Streets Kitchen and Islington's housing and health and social care leads, was sent to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Wednesday.
Citing chancellor Rishi Sunak's budget promise to give the NHS 'whatever resources it needs' to deal with Covid-19, MoH says the Shoreditch HIV hospital has the spare beds and specialist staff needed to help homeless people who test positive.
Homeless groups have criticised government guidance for a lack of clarity about where homeless people should go if they need to self-isolate.
The Tabernacle Road hospital, which is run by a charity and specialises in AIDS/ HIV treatment is currently faced with closure due to a funding gap.
It needs £5million to run on full capacity for another year - but hospital chiefs say that government funding of between £1.5million to £2.5m could keep it open for six months.
A government spokesperson said it will respond to the letter in due course, and that the health minister has asked the NHS to work with Mildmay Hospital to investigate the issue further. They claimed the government has listened to concerns about Mildmay Hospital, saying the health minister has asked the NHS to work with the hospital to investigate the issue further.
MoH cofounder Jess Turtle told the Gazette: 'We feel there is an extreme urgency to make those beds available for people rough sleeping because the current guidance for Covid-19 is not adequate for people who have not got somewhere to self-isolate.'
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'I think in the next couple of weeks it will be a devastating situation for people who are homeless, who are also particularly vulnerable to the crisis anyway because a lot of people have chronic lung conditions. So we really need actions taken now to minimise the effects.'
The hospital's chief exec Geoff Coleman said: 'We should be in the mix because we have got spare beds, they are isolated. In fact we have got a whole ward that can be isolated and given over for that, so we have the capacity.
'It helps us because we are able to meet immediate needs of the community, and it buys us some time as well to work with commissioners on a longer term plan. Homelessness step-down care is something we have been looking into for some time, and whether the hospital could transition into it. It's a really good fit at [the hospital staff's] overlap of skills, it's considerable.'
He says the hospital currently has 12 empty rooms with beds in that could all be self-isolated.
Streets Kitchen coordinator Jon Glackin added: 'Homeless people need somewhere to self isolate, there is nowhere. There has been no guidance for what to do, we are cleaning everybody's hands with sanitiser and we even have a thermometer but all we can do is ring 111.'
Jon has called on Islington and other councils to set up homeless task forces dedicated to coronavirus victims.
Islington's housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: 'I think it's a very valid point. I would be open to talking to groups who support the homeless about that.'
On Mildmay Hospital, he added: 'We are concerned about the lack of provision for the street homeless population in relation to the coronavirus pandemic and we have asked [MHCLG] to deliver funding as soon as possible because [Mildmay Hospital] has experience of specialist care for people who have been on the streets.'
A Government spokesperson said: 'We're well prepared to deal with the potential impacts of coronavirus and are already working closely with local authorities to support vulnerable groups including homeless people.
'We've announced a £500 million hardship fund so local authorities can support economically vulnerable people and households and we will publish further guidance for hostels and day centres shortly.'