Coronavirus: special considerations for people without their own home

Communication from Scottish Government Homeless Team, 12 March 2020

Over the past week the Scottish Government Homelessness Team has been working with teams across Government, considering our business continuity plans, building on existing work for pandemic flu in preparedness for an outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID 19.  In the same vein, I know many of you will already be considering the impact this may have on your organisation and the people you support.  Scottish Ministers are very keen to make sure we are all collectively doing as much as we can to ensure we have plans in place to protect staff, homeless people, including those who are particularly vulnerable, such as rough sleepers, those residing in temporary accommodation and those involved in street begging. As I’m sure you can appreciate, the Covid-19 situation is constantly evolving and while we know we do not have all the answers right now, we will be working to develop policy and practice in the coming days and weeks. Rest assured we will continue to share advice and best practice whenever we have it.

First and foremost, the main source of medical advice remains the NHS Inform website. The most useful source of information contained there from our perspective is the Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings  .

Building on that, Healthcare Protection Scotland (HPS) is able to provide further guidance to help develop policy and practice and in our business continuity planning.

  • With regard to cleanliness, washing hands is the most effective way to prevent spread and should always be the first priority for staff and service users. Hand gel can be used as an alternative where handwashing isn’t possible but for rough sleepers in particular, if hands are dirty then hand gel will be less effective.
  • When business continuity planning the best way to develop plans is to think of the different environments the homeless population is housed in. We’d suggest looking at these different settings and making sure plans are in place for each:
    • Rough sleepers who are interacting with street teams and frontline non-accommodation services.
    • Congregate accommodation where people are sharing rooms e.g. – rapid access accommodation
    • Congregate accommodation where households aren’t sharing rooms e.g. shared accommodation
    • Temporary furnished flats
  • If someone feels they may be infected, the key thing to do is to call their GP or 111 if they don’t have one who will offer advice to the individual.
  • In the event of a suspected or confirmed case, the key is social distancing, so where possible, keep someone isolated in a room and minimise interactions with other people in the same facility. Depending on the severity, that individual may be taken to hospital.
  • On a practical level, this should allow, where possible, for people to have access to a separate supply of things they will need like soap, handtowels, eating and cooking utensils.

We’re sure many of you will have also seen the following guidance around homelessness and rough sleeping and COVID-19 which has been produced by Homeless Link in England.

We have been in close contact with local authorities through the housing options hubs and frontline outreach services across Scotland to understand their responses and to ensure they properly communicate their plans to each other as part of the wider, multi-agency local authority response. We are continuingly stressing the importance of the provision of handwashing facilities, paper tissues and the ability to dispose of them quickly within services.

We appreciate this only provides a starting point and we will be looking to develop this in the days ahead to provide more comprehensive advice. In the meantime, it would be really helpful if you were able to keep asking questions. We can’t promise to have an answer for everything but by doing so it will help us provide the best advice we can to you.