Glass Door Chief Operating Officer, Lucy Abraham writes
As Glass Door runs England’s largest network of winter night shelters, we have concerns around how the current guidelines around coronavirus apply to people who sleep rough or stay in emergency shelters.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where we provide emergency winter shelter for up to 70 individuals a night, has seen the most cases of coronavirus in London. The risks of the virus reaching our shelters are increasing in likelihood by the day.
We have a rigorous process in place to identify whether someone is at risk of coronavirus. Our guidance follows NHS advice, which states that anyone experiencing symptoms and identified as ‘at-risk’ should call NHS 111.
Where a guest meets the ‘at-risk’ criteria, we would be unable to admit them into the night shelter due to the risk to others. This means we would potentially have to turn people away from the shared space of our shelters. But if this were to happen, the next steps are unclear.
Turning people away from night shelters without an alternative safe space to retreat seems inhumane and potentially risky for public health.
To minimise the risk of the virus spreading in our shelters, we are advising all guests and volunteers to wash their hands for 20 seconds before handling food, increasing our supply of hand gels in Glass Door shelters, and stepping up our cleaning procedures. We are also monitoring the NHS advice, keeping our guidance updated and regularly sharing it with all volunteers, staff and partner organisations.
I think all of us in the homeless sector are keen to share ideas and come up with a solution to support those who have nowhere to self-isolate. Glass Door is in regular communication with other charities and I’ve been heartened by the willingness to work together to come up with better guidance.
We flagged our concerns to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government early on, calling for specific guidance aimed at people without a fixed address who may be ‘at-risk’ of contracting coronavirus. As coronavirus spreads, it’s encouraging to hear that the government is now drawing up plans for this eventuality.
We believe that everyone has inherent dignity no matter where they sleep. The voices of those who have nowhere to turn but the streets should be heard in this public health crisis.