Over the past week the Scottish Government Homelessness Team has been working with teams across Government: considering business continuity plans and building on existing work for pandemic flu in preparedness for an outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID 19. Scottish Ministers are very keen to make sure the SG and its partners are all collectively doing as much as possible to ensure plans are in place to protect staff, homeless people, including those who are particularly vulnerable, such as rough sleepers, those residing in temporary accommodation and those involved in street begging. The Covid-19 situation is constantly evolving and the SG will be working to develop policy and practice in the coming days and weeks. The SG will continue to share advice and best practice whenever we have it.
First and foremost, the main source of medical advice remains the NHS Inform website. The most useful source of information contained there from our perspective is the Guidance for Non-Healthcare Settings https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/web-resources-container/covid-19-guidance-for-non-healthcare-settings/ .
Building on that, Healthcare Protection Scotland (HPS) is able to provide further guidance to help develop policy and practice and in our business continuity planning.
- With regard to cleanliness, washing hands is the most effective way to prevent spread and should always be the first priority for staff and service users. Hand gel can be used as an alternative where handwashing isn’t possible but for rough sleepers in particular, if hands are dirty then hand gel will be less effective.
- When business continuity planning the best way to develop plans is to think of the different environments the homeless population is housed in. The SG suggests looking at these different settings and making sure plans are in place for each:
- Rough sleepers who are interacting with street teams and frontline non-accommodation services.
- Congregate accommodation where people are sharing rooms e.g. – rapid access accommodation
- Congregate accommodation where households aren’t sharing rooms e.g. shared accommodation
- Temporary furnished flats
- If someone feels they may be infected, the key thing to do is to call their GP or 111 if they don’t have a GP who will offer advice to the individual.
- If there is a confirmed case, particularly in congregate accommodation, liaison with the local health protection team is necessary. (Contact details can be found at annex 2 , page 8 in the attached link https://hpspubsrepo.blob.core.windows.net/hps-website/nss/2935/documents/1_covid-19-guidance-for-hpt.pdf )
- In the event of a suspected or confirmed case, the key is social distancing, so where possible, a person should be isolated in a room and interactions minimised with other people in the same facility. Depending on the severity, that individual may be taken to hospital.
- On a practical level, this should allow, where possible, for people to have access to a separate supply of things they will need like soap, handtowels, eating and cooking utensils.
The following guidance around homelessness and rough sleeping and COVID-19 has been produced by Homeless Link in England. https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2020/mar/05/covid-19-coronavirus-outbreak
The SG has been in close contact with local authorities through the housing options hubs and frontline outreach services across Scotland to understand their responses and to ensure they properly communicate their plans to each other as part of the wider, multi-agency local authority response. The importance of the provision of handwashing facilities, paper tissues and the ability to dispose of them quickly within services is key.
The SG will be looking to develop this guidance in the days ahead to provide more comprehensive advice. In the meantime, the SG Homeless Team is keen to hear any further queries that those working with homeless people may wish to put to them by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org