Our Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, Dominic Williamson, outlines what the Government must do to protect both our staff and people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic.

These certainly are unprecedented times.

With supermarket shelves bare and new restrictions being announced daily, we are in the middle of something the likes of which few of us have ever had to experience.

As an organisation, the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic has well and truly been understood. Our top priority is to do everything we can to protect the safety and wellbeing of our clients and our staff.

Staff at our outreach, advice and accommodation services are currently working around the clock to respond to the latest public health guidance, and prepare for further restrictions on daily life to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Our staff are experts in providing specialist support to people to move off the street and to sustain their tenancy. It is crucial that they can continue to work throughout this crisis.

People who are homeless commonly suffer from long-term health problems, which are exacerbated for those who sleep rough. Many of our clients need help to cope with complex problems such as poor mental health, drug and alcohol problems and domestic abuse – so it is essential that our services keep running.

If services are not able to maintain minimum staffing levels throughout the coronavirus crisis, then thousands more people could be forced to sleep rough, placing unbearable pressure on the NHS.

This is why we have been calling on the Government to include everyone working in the homelessness sector as key workers, recognising their role as critical and prioritising their children for access to school and nursery.

The Government has listened and included ‘charities and workers delivering key frontline services’ in the list of key workers. This is very welcome news indeed.

We recognise things are moving quickly, but we still need further action to protect people facing homelessness as the pandemic develops. We are working alongside other homelessness charities to call on the Government to introduce further urgent measures, including:

There is little doubt we need to avoid adding to the huge strain on NHS and emergency services, as well as save the lives of vulnerable groups. The homelessness sector can do a great deal to support this effort if the measures above are taken.

Above all, the impact of the coronavirus on people already struggling with homelessness must be understood and the response must be compassionate.

The action from Government to ban new evictions during the crisis is a welcome example. We hope this approach will continue.

If you see someone sleeping rough, please let StreetLink know so they can help connect them to local services. Or in a medical emergency call 999.

Find out more on how you can help during the coronavirus crisis.