We are a grassroots coalition of organisations working in various aspects of homelessness outreach, support, and activism, who already work together across London, and who have been supporting each other since the pandemic began.
We published the national plan for hotel access last weekend, amidst silence from the mainstream homelessness sector and authorities. We are pleased that the plan has been taken forward but we are deeply concerned that we are excluded from communications and planning and we are already seeing specific examples of this happening. By default this also means that the people we work with are being excluded, even though they are arguably very at risk from the pandemic.
Our groups/charities include:
The Outside Project
Museum of Homelessness
What we can offer
We are and have been mobilising in support of our communities. These include LGBTIQ+ homeless people, people who are homeless with pets, people who are refugees and migrants and are homeless, and people who are homeless, many of whom often feel themselves to be outside the reach of the commissioned homelessness sector. Our first priority is to these groups and we are currently maintaining the services we provide as well as sharing resources to provide more mobile outreach to people who are still on the streets.
We will continue to provide outreach for basic supplies and reassurance as long as it is needed. When we are satisfied that the proposed hotel system is safe and supportive, we are open to considering using our volunteers and resources to support food and supply drops. However, this can never come at the expense of the wellbeing and security of the people that we support.
We have access to a vast resource of volunteer time and energy, which we would commit to offer to the ‘hotel system’ project given certain written reassurances and guarantees. This energy can be mobilised toward meeting a wide range of needs, from outreach, to subsistence, to pastoral and community support.
We are also in communication with a large number of individuals who are not in touch with, and are in many cases deeply mistrustful of, commissioned services. Reaching and protecting those individuals is a task that will become easier with the assistance of our coalition, and, providing certain commitments are made, we are willing to provide that assistance.
What commitments we need
- We understand that it will not be possible to provide a COVID test for every individual entering the hotel system. This is a substantial risk: we must assume at least some individuals will enter the system carrying COVID-19, and we must mitigate this with strictly managed self-isolation structures. We strongly recommend that Dr Al Storey’s widely circulated cohorting process is followed in the deployment of the hotel plan.
- In absence of testing, we must see robust clinical testing of every individual entering the systems for symptoms, underlying conditions.
- This process must be led by specialist homelessness health teams.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hygiene
- PPE – masks, gloves – and antibacterial handwash, spray, cleaning products at every hotel premises, and clear processes for restocking.
- We are currently unclear on where hotels are and what commissioned services are working in any building. We need to be aware of this and the systems being used around self-isolation management.
Priority for people sleeping rough
- The triage and cohorting process recommended by the homelessness health teams clearly states that the following strategy is critical: Priority should be given to the most vulnerable. This means priority as follows:
1) People who are symptomatic with COVID-19 and people who are sleeping rough or in crowded provision who also have an underlying health condition which makes them at risk of becoming severely ill with the virus.
2) After this all other people who are homeless, i.e. not in hostels, should be brought in.
- We are deeply concerned at mass movement of people into the hotel system simply because they are already within commissioned services, and therefore relatively easy to access.
- There are currently people on the street who are in Category 1, and these people should be immediately brought inside.
Food provision for people left on the streets
- Supply of food to people sleeping rough has been hit in 2 ways:
- reduction of services
- reduction in footfall on the streets, therefore of sources of donated money/food.
- We urgently need more communication on how we can procure food quickly through official channels to support the most vulnerable. We also need resources commitments. These are:
- Access to kitchens
- Advocacy within the supply chain so we can be supplied with food.
Utilising existing hotel/hostel staff
- Wherever possible, existing hotel staff, particularly kitchen staff, should continue to be employed to work in the hotels offered to this system, to continue to provide employment to those staff. While our organisations are happy to work toward providing food for those using this system, it does not make sense to leave hotel kitchens empty, while we transport food from elsewhere.
- Whilst there is certainly a role for community action and the civic movement (such as ours and the mutual aid groups), the provision of basic supplies such as food to people in isolation is ultimately in the duty of care of central and local government. Funding and employing people trained to provide food in the hotels, with community groups playing a supporting role and filling gaps in the coming weeks and months seems to be the most logical approach.
- Many people who are homeless have pets, and in many cases those pets provide vital support. Pet owners experiencing homelessness have often turned down accommodation before and are unlikely to find a hotel housing scheme acceptable if they are not allowed to keep their pets with them. Structures must be put in place to ensure that people are able to keep their pets with them to the hotel system, or have them cared for by a trusted third party which is acceptable to all concerned.
- StreetVet can help care for pets housed with their owners in several ways: 1) provide deliveries of dog food, 2) provide a telemedicine veterinary service as long as a member of staff or volunteer in the hotel can allow the owner to use their smartphone, 3) provide supplies the owners may require to keep their pets in the hotel room (e.g. crates, muzzles, leads, absorbent pads, poo bags, etc), and 4) 24/7 emergency veterinary contact number in case pets require veterinary treatment at a practice.
- StreetVet has a network of over 100 volunteer vets and veterinary nurses around London supported by a wider network in 17 cities, who will be able to support this scheme in person if provided with adequate PPE and notice. For example, StreetVet volunteers may be able to help transport pets to practices or clinics if needed.
- Should owners be hospitalised, social services have a duty of care to their pets. While no single organisation can provide the number of kennels likely to be required during this pandemic, StreetVet can help transport pets to commercial kennels funded by social services.
- Our organisations must be able to direct people who are homeless to ‘self-refer’ into the hotel system. Referral into the hotel system cannot only be possible through the commissioned homelessness sector.
- This is because, as is well known across the sector, there are a large number of individuals who for various reasons do not trust the commissioned services. These people will not be protected if self-referral is not made possible.
- As stated above, many of these people will be ‘category 1’ in terms of the cohort strategy. The grassroots will be essential in bringing people to safety and preventing unnecessary deaths.
- In addition to initial clinical testing and triaging, we must see a commitment to delivering necessary medical intervention and support for any individuals that develop COVID-19 symptoms during their residency.
- If individuals are to self-isolate for long periods, they will need access to addiction support services. We must see reassurances that such services can realistically be delivered.
- Similarly, we must see clear outlined plans for ongoing mental health support during an individual’s period of residency.
- Any such plan must be identity-, gender- and culture-responsive. While we appreciate that this provision must be put in place quickly, in order to reach marginalised and at risk groups, the offer must be, and must feel, safe for those who don’t access mainstream services. The wellbeing of these at risk groups is a priority in our working practice, and will continue to be so in any engagement with this proposed scheme.
- Regular consultation must be held with relevant stakeholder organisations to ensure the continuation of supportive and secure circumstances for these at risk groups.
No role for the Home Office or other departments concerned with immigration/deportation
- We are pleased to have been verbally assured that there will be no data sharing with the Home Office and no risk of anyone being detained as a result of accessing the hotel plan.
- Before we are able to support and work with the ‘hotel system’ plan, we will require a written statement from the relevant authorities confirming the following:
- No data will be shared with the Home Office or any other government department for the purposes of immigration enforcement or deportation.
- No distinction will be made between individuals considered ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ and those not considered as such.
- Regular consultation and review with an agreed list of organisations to ensure that this agreement is being upheld.
Additional items to be discussed
- This document should be considered a work in progress, and additional considerations and requirements could be added at a later date, following consultation with other stakeholders.