That is the warning from doctors leaders, with homeless people three times more likely to be chronically ill with lung and breathing problems – a serious risk factor in the development of the virus.
The rates of people made homeless are expected to increase as the temporary halt on being able to evict those in rent arrears is due to end on 23 August – and charity Shelter is estimating 227,000 private renters have fallen into arrears since the pandemic and could lose their homes when the ban is lifted.
On top of this, the number of job losses and incidents of domestic violence continue to rise as a result of the pandemic, also forcing people out of their homes and potentially rendering them homeless.
BMA board of science chair Parveen Kumar said: ‘The Government could be putting thousands of people’s lives at risk by not extending the eviction ban and having future provisions in place. Considering that we are still far from out of the woods with this virus, this is both incredibly short-sighted and potentially dangerous.’
At the outbreak of the pandemic, the Government launched its ‘Everyone In’ initiative in England, with rough sleepers and homeless people in shelters given accommodation in hotels and hostels in which they were able to self-isolate. As the additional funding for the initiative announced in June is finite, some of those contracts are already coming to an end.
In a paper published today, the BMA calls for the eviction ban to be extended, and for legislation to place a 12-month duty on local authorities to enable everyone who sleeping rough, who is homeless and cannot self-isolate, or at risk of these eventualities, to have access to safe accommodation.
The BMA is also calling for the Government to pay more attention to the ‘hidden homeless’ – those who ‘sofa surf’ in shared accommodation and urgently need more support.
As well as an extension on the temporary ban of housing evictions, the BMA paper calls for evaluation of collaboration during the pandemic between public services.
It also calls for the Government’s COVID-19 rough-sleeping taskforce to use the ‘Everyone In’ initiative to engage the homeless population with health services.
Most importantly, the BMA has said such actions need to be carried out alongside longer-term interventions if the Government wants to meet its commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027. This includes proactive development of public services, designed alongside homeless people themselves, that uphold homeless people’s right to health.
Professor Kumar added: ‘We recognise that the Government has already taken decisive action to keep homeless people safe during this time. However, we desperately need this support to continue. We also need preventive measures to be put in place to help reduce the number of people at risk of losing their homes. This is particularly important as we head deeper into a recession and near the end of the eviction ban.
‘Without this, we could see large outbreaks of COVID-19 among the homeless population, not only putting this community at risk, but also the wider population – potentially undoing months of national effort to get a grip of this horrific virus.’