The Westminster government has put forward more funding to help rough sleepers get vaccinations as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the UK. Image: Mat Napo / Unsplash
People sleeping rough on the streets in England will be helped into safe accommodation and offered access to Covid-19 vaccines to protect them from the Omicron variant, the Westminster government has announced.
Ministers have announced a £28million funding boost for local authorities to protect rough sleepers and increase uptake of Covid-19 vaccines as the UK recorded 82,886 new cases on Sunday.
Eddie Hughes, minister for rough sleeping said: “In the wake of a surge in Covid-19 cases and a new variant, we have an even greater responsibility to protect vulnerable people.
“I’m very pleased to announce this funding today, to make sure as many people as possible are vaccinated and that councils can protect people sleeping rough and put a roof over their heads.”
The UK government introduced the Everyone In scheme at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and protected 37,000 rough sleepers in hotels and emergency accommodation.
The action proved to be life-saving and prevented 266 deaths in the first three months of lockdown in 2020, according to academics.
Ministers said the scheme “continues to help rough sleepers off the streets and protect their health”.
The new funding is aiming to fund more emergency accommodation as well as tackling hesitancy against vaccination amid the latest push for booster jabs.
The money will deliver mobile vaccinations to meet people where they are sleeping on the streets and support outreach work in shelters to educate people about the danger of the virus.
Councils will also receive funds to provide safe and secure accommodation while rough sleepers’ vaccination levels increase.
The funding has been welcomed by Rick Henderson, CEO of Homeless Link, the national membership charity for frontline homelessness groups. He said Homeless Link’s 900 member organisations are working with local authorities across England to increase vaccinations.
“When people are rough sleeping they are extremely vulnerable to infection. In the first waves of the pandemic the Everyone In initiative saved lives,” said Henderson. “Covid-19 was responsible for the deaths of less than two per cent of people experiencing homelessness during 2020 as opposed to 12 per cent of the general population which showed that assertive action worked.
“We also know that people facing homelessness are much less likely to be vaccinated than people in the general population.
“They are therefore much more vulnerable to the Omicron variant. Many are not registered with GPs and don’t have access to mobile phones. Bringing people into accommodation will increase the uptake of vaccinations.”
There have been warnings that homeless people could be left on the streets this winter in recent weeks – Housing Justice said emergency beds could be down by around a half compared to pre-pandemic levels as Omicron shut shelters.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 was a minor factor in the Office for National Statistics’ homeless deaths figures, released earlier this month. In total, just 13 deaths were attributed to the virus out of almost 700 in England and Wales in 2020.
“Through our frontline services we know that vaccination rates amongst people experiencing homelessness are particularly low. This could prove fatal for many when also coupled with other health issues and the physical impact of spending night and day on the streets in the freezing cold,” added Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes.
“As this additional support becomes available, it must be based on need, rather than if someone was born in the UK or not. We’d also need to see the default assistance provided to be self-contained accommodation rather than communal shelters wherever possible, alongside the offer of a vaccine.”
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