Everything You Need to Know About How Coronavirus Is Impacting The Homeless During Lockdown

Published 11th April 2020

You’ve probably read in the news about the government pledging to house rough sleepers during the Coronavirus crisis. But what does this actually mean and how does it work in practice?

Doctors of the World have been working on the streets of London for the last six months and providing medical outreach and support to people who are street homeless.

We spoke to Durga, our Mobile Clinic Coordinator and a GP, about the impact of Coronavirus and she answered some common questions.

People who are street homeless have been offered rooms in hotels that have been procured by local authorities. The hotels are divided into floors for different groups.

There is a floor for people with symptoms and who need to self-isolate. There are then floors for people with no symptoms and these are split between those with people with good general health and those with underlying conditions.

Would we provide medical support in the hotels?

Ideally, yes. However, we don’t currently have the funding, staff or volunteers. If money was no object then we would do this. The staffing and volunteer situation is hard, as there are such high demands on other parts of the health service.

For example, Durga is also a GP and she is need at her surgery, as much as she would like to increase her hours at this time. We’re working to look at how we can solve this problem. If everyone was off the streets, then we would look to switch our service.

What hotels are being used?

In the City of London, a number of Holiday Inns are being used. These have been stripped back to basics in terms of staffing. The rooms have also been modified to be as basic as possible. There are no running kitchens, which poses logistical problems around food.

For example, we don’t want people to leave the hotel to go looking for something to eat. The team are working with soup kitchens and other providers to make sure everyone has access to sufficient food.

How have we changed our service?

We have stopped using our van due to the increased risk of transmission when in a confined space. We then switched to on-foot outreach with a focus on Coronavirus. Our colleagues alert us to people they are concerned about who may have symptoms or who are particularly vulnerable.

We’ve also switched from a night service (when people are stationary) to a day service. This is due to safety concerns of working in a deserted city. However, if we are unable to help those in most need, then we will switch back to an evening service, but with a police escort.

What happens if someone refuses to go into the hotel?

It depends on the reason for refusal. If there are no concerns about capacity or mental health, then the police have the power to enforce isolation.

If people have a mental health problem and there are concerns around capacity, then the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act can be used to enforce isolation.

Both of these need to be done in partnership with the police.

As well as Coronavirus concerns, then there is increased anxiety and mental health issues. However, the support can vary depending on where you are.

There are also worries about people with drug and alcohol dependencies and the need to offer detox support if people are going into the hotels.

Why are Doctors of the World in the best position to help?

It is interesting how this has increased collaboration with other services. The way the homeless support has been put together quickly provides a model for how we can improve planning and support in the future.

And finally we ask Durga how it would change the way we work in the future.

We hope you’ve found this summary interesting. Please, if you can, support Durga and the team by donating to our Coronavirus Solidarity Fund.


With your support, Doctors of the World will make sure nobody suffers or dies due to lack of access to healthcare.