‘Everyone In’ has saved lives – this winter lockdown is when we need it most

Facing a winter lockdown – our Executive Director for Care and Support, John Glenton, outlines why reinstating the hugely successful Everyone In initiative is essential to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people sleeping rough at this time.

‘This has changed my life.”

These are the words of a man in his mid-30s who was interviewed by Riverside after being brought in off the streets of Manchester as part of ‘Everyone In’ – an unprecedented national response that saved hundreds of people from losing their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has undoubtedly transformed the lives of many more people.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic approximately 15,000 people across England have been housed in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation.

This is an exceptional response to an unprecedented national health emergency.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has acknowledged this accomplishment in publishing the guidance for its Next Steps Accommodation Programme which lead to the delivery of 3,300 new homes to provide longer-term move-on accommodation for those affected by homelessness.

As MHCLG acknowledges: “This is a truly remarkable achievement, and one which is the result of the hard work of local government, the NHS, other health partners, agencies and charities across the country, who have helped to get people off the street and into safe accommodation, protecting the most vulnerable in society and ultimately saving lives.”

It is simply unthinkable to contemplate that ‘Everyone In’ will not be repeated this winter now a second national lockdown has been announced.

How effective was ‘Everyone In’?

Without a successor to ‘Everyone In’ it is highly likely that this year thousands of people will endure their harshest winter ever sleeping rough on the streets in freezing conditions having lost their jobs, suffered a relationship breakdown or experienced both.

It was estimated that 726 people affected by homelessness died in 2018.

For those that survive the impact of sleeping rough on the streets can be devastating on their mental and physical health and can lead to substance abuse and life-long complications.

Riverside has run emergency hotel provision on behalf of Manchester City Council at the Holiday Inn in Gorton for the past seven months.

Up to the start of October 79 residents have left the hotel.

Exactly seven out of ten of those residents – 55 people – have moved on to other forms of accommodation.

Less than a third of those residents (30%) – 24 people – left the hotel without informing where they were going. Some of those people had to be removed for breaking Covid-19 isolation rules.

Why was ‘Everyone In’ so effective?

People experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the risk of transmission in shared accommodation and the high prevalence of underlying health conditions.

One study of people facing homelessness in London showed that levels of frailty were comparable to 89-year-olds in the general population.

Last month it was revealed that the government will publish new guidance, informed by Public Health England, on how to open night shelters safely without endangering residents or staff.

I am concerned that shared accommodation simply isn’t a safe place to stay for people affected by homelessness during the outbreak of a serious infection disease like Covid-19.

Indeed, we have heard our customers tell us that they would choose to sleep rough on their streets as a safer option rather than risk moving into dormitories.

‘Everyone In’ helped to provide essential funding to allow local authorities to provide single rooms for every person who left the streets during the lockdown.

A research study on the transmission of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness in England was published in The Lancet in September. The study was not aware of any outbreaks in homelessness settings in England to date.

The results of the study, by researchers at University College London, suggests that closing dormitory-style accommodation and increasing infection control in single-room accommodation has contributed to the absence of outbreaks.

During the first wave of COVID-19 in England, the researchers estimate that measures introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19 among people affected by homelessness helped to prevent 21,092 infections, 1,164 hospital admissions, 338 ICU admissions and 266 deaths.

Councils and homelessness service providers across the country deserve recognition for helping to keep people safe during this global pandemic.

In contrast to how well homelessness services in the UK handled the pandemic, services in the US struggled with several outbreaks reported in communal shelters.

The national response to ‘Everyone In’ has been one of the most heart-warming elements of Britain’s response to Covid-19.

By working together local authorities, the police, NHS, and our colleagues and counterparts in the homelessness sector has proven beyond doubt what can be achieved to end rough sleeping during a national emergency.

As we move towards the winter months and freezing night time temperatures it is now more important than ever to prevent rough sleeping and stop the spread of COVID-19 among people affected by homelessness.

The Government has an enormous job to do at the moment.

The announcement of ‘Everyone In’ was made on March 26th three days after the lockdown began.

It is imperative that a successor to ‘Everyone In’ begins within days of the second lockdown in order to keep people safe.

We would urge that this announcement is made, and funding provided, as soon as possible to enable the necessary accommodation to be secured and prepared for people to arrive.

Let’s all be ready to tackle and overcome this threat again.