Everyone in – or are they?

St Mungo’s teams were part of the Government’s initiative to get “Everyone In” due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Ed Addison, who manages one of our outreach teams, shares his first-hand experience of supporting people sleeping rough during lockdown. He explains how the response to the pandemic has been a turning point for many people who have been on the streets for years.


“It was 19 March when the gravity of the situation with Covid-19 hit home for me. I was out on an early shift speaking with George* , a well-informed, articulate man in his 50s. George has been sleeping rough for a couple of years but he is reluctant to accept help.

One of the most challenging parts of my job is trying to engage with people like George. So many people who sleep rough have been let down by people in positions of trust throughout their lives.

One bad experience can set the tone for all future relationships. As outreach workers, we are the first point of contact and we are often met with distrust.

But at the beginning of the outbreak, it was more important than ever that we do all we can to support people who are disconnected from society. We were asked by local government to make sure we got everybody indoors due to the potential health risk of Covid-19. By that point, we were also hearing about the possibility of a lockdown. I knew that, once the streets emptied and shops closed, George would struggle to find food.

I use different techniques to encourage people like George to accept support. One method is to use your knowledge of rough sleeping to explain just how dangerous it is. In this case I also tried to turn the concern around the virus as a tool to encourage him to come inside. He countered my points by saying that it was his choice to live his life on the streets, and that he was prepared to die on the streets.

Even more important than stating the facts is trying to build a relationship. My aim is always to rebuild trust by showing people that you really can help, and you really do care. George and I sat and talked, and he admitted that he was concerned about where he would find food if we went into lockdown. I listened to his concerns, and felt he was listening to me too.

I gave him my number and urged him to reconsider. Working for a homelessness charity it is impossible to distance yourself from the wider housing system. People who end up on the streets can be some of the most disconnected from the system, people who have fallen through a safety net that has become increasingly unsafe.

Years of austerity has impacted on the shrinking of local authority budgets and reduced the number of services available to people in need. In a broken system, is it any wonder that people are reluctant to trust us? Yet what we and others achieved is remarkable in such a short space of time.

Within a few months of lockdown measures being announced, the outreach team I manage accommodated more than 100 people in hotel rooms, many of whom were people seen sleeping out for the first time. We have been able to support people who have been sleeping rough for 10, 15, even 20 years. In the first week of the lockdown we were able to support 12 people into drug treatment who, between them, have a cumulative rough sleeping history of 70 years.


In a broken system, is it any wonder that people are reluctant to trust us?

This just shows what can be done when we have the resources we need. This has been a great chance not only to support people away from the streets, but crucially to get to know these people, to listen to what they have to say and understand their situation.

When we truly understand people, we can plan properly and support them so that they can move on with their lives. Street-based outreach workers continue to work tirelessly to find and support people who are living on the streets to find accommodation.

All those who were temporarily housed should never have to return to these streets, and in future government systems must improve in their attitude towards the vulnerable.

People like George, who remained on the streets of the City throughout lockdown, are the most resistant to support and the most traumatised. They need the focus of our interest, our time and our care. One day, I know we will gain George’s trust.”

We have changed George’s name to protect his anonymity*

Read more about our coronavirus response here.