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‘Covid has really helped me’: Vaccinations kick off for homeless in Essex

Redbridge Council were the second council to announce they would prioritise homeless people for a Covid-19 vaccine, helping people like long-term rough sleeper Dean Hudson
Dean Hudson slept rough for two decades before the pandemic. Now he has been housed, has conquered his demons and has received the Covid-19 vaccine. Credit: Salvation Army

A long-time rough sleeper who has turned his life around during the pandemic has urged homeless people to be “treated as equals” after receiving his Covid-19 vaccination.

Dean Hudson, 45, spent 20 years on the streets battling addiction to alcohol and drugs ahead of the pandemic.

But the former window fitter is now celebrating 10 months of sobriety after he moved into Malachi Place in Ilford, Essex, back in April. The hostel, built by The Salvation Army last year using modular construction methods, has offered him a home and vital access to medical care to Dean.

Dean Hudson Covid-19 vaccine
Dean Hudson vaccine Salvation Army
Dean Hudson has transformed his life during the Covid-19 pandemic and is now hoping to secure a full-time job. Credit: Salvation Army

That access culminated in Dean receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the Welcome Project homelessness centre in Ilford on February 5.

Dean said: “I’m glad I had it done, I feel lucky to be quite far up the list of people having it.

“I wanted the vaccine as early as I could. I had been worried about getting Covid and I found out on the same day that I got the vaccine that my aunt had died from it in January so I’m really glad I got the vaccine.

“I think everyone is equal – people on the street are no different to people living in homes. Vulnerable people need the vaccine.”

People who have experienced homelessness are more likely to have underlying conditions leaving them vulnerable to the virus and the average age of death for people who are homeless is 46 for men and 43 for women.

Dean was given priority access as part of Redbridge Council’s efforts to give rough sleepers the Covid-19 vaccination. The London local authority was the second to announce it would be defying government guidance on the rollout, with priority primarily age-based on the advice of the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Covid has really helped me, it may sound horrible, but it has in some ways

Oldham Council announced it would offer jabs to homeless people in January – just days before Redbridge. Since then, Liverpool City Council has also stepped up to vaccinate rough sleepers protected during the pandemic.

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As figures released last week showed Covid-19 cases surge among homeless people in London, deputy mayor Tom Copley has written to the chair of the JCVI Professor Lim Wei Shen asking for the go-ahead to vaccinate rough sleepers currently housed in hotels. Copley said there is a “window of opportunity to give out jabs” before the funding behind the hotel accommodation runs out in March.

But Redbridge Council has already pressed ahead with its own plans to offer Covid-19 vaccination to rough sleepers. Redbridge Council has been approached for comment.

Dean was housed during the pandemic as part of the Everyone In scheme along with 33,000 other vulnerable people, according to government figures, and moved into Malachi Place a month into the first national lockdown.

That path off the streets has enabled Dean to transform his life and he told The Big Issue his 10 months in the flat is the longest he has been off the streets for two decades.

“The flat is basically everything you need,” said Dean. “This is the longest I’ve stayed in a place and it has got me into the system. Usually I’d be in a place for five or six months and then I’d be off again, I’d never get settled.

“Covid has really helped me, it may sound horrible, but it has in some ways. It’s got me into the system and I’m able to get medical care and everything else. It’s really good and I wouldn’t like to go back on the streets now. I’ve settled and I’m looking forwards.

“They’ve helped me a lot here – I’ve had to do it myself, of course, but they’ve guided me and I’ve opened up to them over the last six or seven months. They’ve guided me to the right place – I wish more people could do the same.”

Craig O'Shea outside his pitch at Mallets in Truro
Craig O'Shea Truro
Craig sells the magazine outside Mallets hardware store in Truro and he insists it "makes life worth living again" (Credit: Laura Harris)

Dean is not the only one who has seen his life change for the better during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Truro Big Issue vendor Craig O’Shea was rough sleeping at the start of the pandemic and refused offers of accommodation. But throughout 2020 Craig had a change of heart and now has been able to secure his own flat and start his own bicycle repair business.

He told The Big Issue: “I think the Covid-19 pandemic helped me move forward with my life”