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Homeless people could self-isolate in Ipswich B&Bs during coronavirus outbreak

PUBLISHED: 21:42 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 21:43 20 March 2020

Rough sleepers in Ipswich are being given extra support during the coronavirus crisis - but there are fears about whether it will be enough. Picture: IAN BURT

Rough sleepers in Ipswich are being given extra support during the coronavirus crisis - but there are fears about whether it will be enough. Picture: IAN BURT

Archant 2018

Rough sleepers in Ipswich could be given temporary bed and breakfast accommodation to self-isolate during the coronavirus outbreak - amid fears they are among the most vulnerable to the disease.

Neil MacDonald, portfolio holder for housing and health at Ipswich Borough Council, hopes there will be more funding to help the town's homeless people. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCILNeil MacDonald, portfolio holder for housing and health at Ipswich Borough Council, hopes there will be more funding to help the town's homeless people. Picture: IPSWICH BOROUGH COUNCIL

The government has given Ipswich Borough Council £5,000 to help those on the streets during the pandemic, after shelters such as Ipswich’s Chapman Centre were forced to restrict services to protect staff.

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The council is still to decide on how best to use the cash, but Neil MacDonald - the authority’s portfolio holder for housing and health - said bed and breakfast rooms would probably be bought for those showing symptoms, so they can self-isolate.

However with many rough sleepers also having underlying health conditions, Mr MacDonald said: “I hope there will be a route to get more money.

Jools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG). Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHJools Ramsey, chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG). Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

“If we’re asking people to self-isolate for two weeks, then it will potentially get burnt through quite quickly.

“I don’t feel it’ll last and I hope there will be an opportunity to bid for more.”

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He added that while the council does have some homeless units, the health crisis might make it difficult to maintain staff cover.

Campaigners have stressed that homeless people do not pose a larger risk to the wider population, particularly if people follow guidelines about avoiding all non-essential contact with others.

But Mr MacDonald said: “Clearly, homeless people are very vulnerable.

“They almost certainly will have underlying health conditions, low immune systems and mental health problems.

“If you’re used to having a persistent cough, you might not realise you have Covid-19.”

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The government has said that while many people who contract coronavirus will make a full recovery, those in “at risk” categories - such as the over-70s, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions - could suffer more.

All of those who have died from coronavirus so far have also had underlying health problems.

“I’m quite sure rough sleepers would be in the ‘at risk’ category,” Mr MacDonald said.

“We just have to hope there’s enough capacity in the system.”

MORE: ‘Deeply concerned’: Fears at stigma against homeless people in Ipswich

Jools Ramsey - chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG), which runs the Chapman Centre in Black Horse Lane - said every effort would be made to keep the Chapman Centre open, even though it is operating at reduced hours.

Those using the facility will still be able to use shower and laundry facilities, as well as get a hot meal at lunchtime and collect post.

However she highlighted it was difficult for homeless people - including those in shared accommodation, with shared bathrooms and kitchens - as well as rough sleepers to self-isolate.

“It’s certainly a challenging situation,” she said.

“There’s a call for the government to see them as a highly vulnerable group.

“I’m not suggesting that homeless people pose a bigger risk to the wider population, but they are in a more vulnerable position.

“When you’re homeless, it’s really difficult for you to self-isolate in what we’d consider to be a safe space.”

While services are still available to help the homeless, many are restricted to protect staff or because staff themselves are ill - meaning there is less support than usual.

“Other outreach services are only delivering services by phone,” she said.

“That does restrict access for assessment.

“At times, homeless people are those invisible people.

“There are times when they become quite obvious on the streets, such as at Christmas, but the rest of the time they tend to be ignored.

“During this kind of unprecedented outbreak - and we haven’t had anything on this scale before in recent times - it does leave them really more vulnerable, both to the effects of coronavirus but other health issues as well.”

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