COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak

Thursday, 5 March 2020 - 5:20pm


The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak presents specific risks to the homelessness sector.  The people that our members support are in the high risk group, with long term conditions that mean, should the virus affect a member of staff, or someone experiencing homelessness including individuals who are sleeping rough, there could be severe consequences for services.

Individuals living and sleeping in shared spaces such as hostels, night shelters, and day centres are at particular risk as they are unable to self-isolate, and services cannot close down as the people they support are then forced back to the streets, where they are at even greater risk.

As the membership body for the homelessness and supported housing sector, our responsibility is to advise our members on how to prevent the spread of the virus, and to prepare for different scenarios that may occur.

Our recommendations for action:

  • Local areas ought to establish a homelessness and COVID-19 task force, including the police, housing, health, homelessness, people with lived experience, the wider voluntary sector, and other relevant stakeholders. 
  • A local needs analysis should be undertaken, which includes the nature and location of homeless/rough sleeping cohorts; current intelligence on the demographic and the needs of current rough sleepers; the perceived risk in each of the main homelessness services (day centres, hostels and night shelters) including risk from staff and volunteers. This should include the numbers of people with no recourse to public funds in their area, as this is one of the groups that may be disproportionately affected.
  • Services should be mindful that COVID-19 is more likely to enter the sector through staff than through clients, so it will be important that all local messaging by stakeholders avoids a focus on people using services as the source of any outbreak. Members can influence this locally.
  • Services ought to establish a screening protocol for all staff, volunteers and others in regular contact with the service. At a minimum, outreach teams will need guidance on what to look for and training in what to do should they suspect the presence of COVID-19.
  • A self-isolation protocol, and contingency plan should be developed, as well as a plan for priority treatment for rough sleepers found to have the virus who cannot self-isolate.
  • We are providing our members with information and guidance as it becomes available, in order to support them with putting plans and practice in place to protect the people they support.

Frequently Asked Questions

We have collated and provided responses to questions and concerns from the homelessness sector about the impact of COVID-19 on people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and on delivery of services to those people.

At the present time, a range of guidance and resources are available:

Central government has published a list of guidance for various settings on the website.

Public Health England general guidance Guidance has also been published for providers of hostels and day centres.  At present, rough sleeping services have been advised to follow the government’s guidance for professionals in advising the general public on the virus. This includes advice on what action should be taken if a person has been to China or other specified countries in the last 14 days, or has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations guidance (aimed at the wider charity sector).

We have had sight of specialist advice and guidance for homelessness services from Org-Code Consulting, in Canada.

Housing Justice has produced advice specifically for night shelters.

The Passage has prepared detailed guidance for volunteers, and their contingency plan, both of which have been signed off by clinicians.

Pathway has produced a press release which sets out some advice.

Doctors of the World has produced the government guidance in 21 languages in partnership with the British Red Cross, Migrant Help and Clear Voice. 

Groundswell have developed resources to support people experiencing homelessness during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Guidance for schools, childcare providers, colleges and local authorities in England on maintaining educational provision.

Friends Families and Travellers has published guidance for people living on traveller sites, unauthorised encampments and boats.

The NHS has produced information on prioritisation within health services during the COVID-19 outbreak which mentions homeless health in section 7.


Talk To Us

Caroline Bernard

Head of Communications and Advocacy

Caroline leads Homeless Link's communications, campaigns and information team.

Telephone: 020 7840 4458