CORONAVIRUS LATEST: Homeless charity to lead task force helping rough sleepers in Southend

Southend’s leading homeless charity has said it is to take charge of an emergency task force that will aim to keep rough sleepers safe while coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

Southend HARP outlined a plan that involves making changes to their day centre, launching education programmes that focus on the pandemic and offering guidance to those who need to self-isolate.

It comes as the virus known as COVID-19 continues to spread through Essex, infecting more than 26 people across the county.

Jackie Bliss, HARP’s Chief Executive, said: “Rough sleepers face a range of challenges in relation to COVID-19 that others may take for granted.

“These include being more likely to have underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk, not having somewhere safe to self-isolate if needed, limited access to hand-washing facilities and – perhaps most important of all – lack of awareness of Coronavirus at all, due to limited access to news.

“HARP is leading an emergency task-force of local services and agencies which also work with homeless people including rough sleepers, so that we can all continue to support some of Southend’s most vulnerable people whilst keeping them safe.

“Our Bradbury Day Centre is still open for our rough sleeper breakfast as well as for advice and support for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“However, we have adapted delivery and timings in order to reduce risk of spreading the virus, as well as implementing the standard advice regarding hand washing and sanitisation.

“We are also expanding our outreach and taking the necessary steps to communicate what COVID-19 means to rough sleepers, especially those not accessing our services.

“And we are providing support and guidance to the 214 people who live in HARP accommodation to ensure that they are informed and supported, particularly if they are required to self-isolate.”

She added that the service would continue to monitor the spread of the virus and offered the charity’s thanks for all the support they had received.

Council leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert has also said work is being undertaken to ensure that crucial services that support the vulnerable continue to be delivered.

“We are reviewing our own business continuity arrangements and particularly focussing on those key services such as social care, ensuring we do all we can to ensure elderly and vulnerable people get the care and services they need at this time,” he said.

On Wednesday, the government said a pot of £3.2million would be made available nationwide for council who need to support rough sleeper needing to self-isolate.

The funding will made available to local authorities so they can be reimbursed for the cost of providing accommodation and services to those sleeping on the streets.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England said: “People sleeping rough are often in poor health and are particularly vulnerable.

“That’s why this funding is so important, ensuring that rough sleepers who get symptoms have somewhere safe and protective to stay, and helping to prevent the spread of the infection.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter