Redbridge Council will start offering COVID tests and vaccines to rough sleepers tomorrow, one of the first services of its kind in the entire country.
From January 14, rapid “lateral flow” tests will be available at the Ryedale Care Centre in Ilford and any spare vaccine slots at Ilford Town Hall, Hawkey Hall and Fullwell Medical Centre.
The council is working with Westminster Drug Project and will use outreach workers rather than paper or electronic referrals to help reach even the most impoverished.
Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said: “We pledged to end rough sleeping in Redbridge, and are taking action to support some of the most vulnerable people in our borough to turn their lives around and get back on their feet.
“Alongside this commitment, Cllr Santos and our public health team have been working hard for months to develop a test and vaccination programme specifically for local rough sleepers – protecting those most in need during this difficult time.
“Thanks to this incredible work, Redbridge will, this week, become one of the first councils in the country to roll out a targeted test and vaccination programme for local rough sleepers.”
Oldham Council in the Greater Manchester area announced on January 4 that it would prioritise vaccines for rough sleepers.
Today, homeless man Lee Ullha received his vaccine at the area’s Depaul UK homeless shelter.
At the council’s overview committee meeting earlier this week (January 11), deputy Conservative group leader Cllr Berlin called on the cabinet to make a similar commitment.
Cllr Berlin (Con, Fairlop) said: “I think we are all aware there’s a pecking order in the way the vaccines are being rolled out to the community.
“In Oldham, they are the first council in the country to roll out the vaccine to rough sleepers, it would be great if we could be the second.
“It would not involve a whole lot of work because there are not a great deal of rough sleepers in the borough.”
According to charity Trust for London, Redbridge outreach workers actually report seeing more rough sleepers on their streets than those in all but nine other London boroughs.
Outreach workers reported seeing 330 rough sleepers last financial year, although this is likely to have reduced as the council rushed to house people during lockdown.
Redbridge Council’s cabinet member for health, Cllr Mark Santos, noted that vaccination “is not a silver bullet” and reminded people to obey social distancing rules.
He said: “Alongside testing and everyone taking responsibility for following the guidelines, it offers us a real hope of tackling COVID-19 so that we can return to a more normal way of life.
“I am proud that we are able to take a truly inclusive approach to protecting our residents as we continue this.”