The impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing homelessness: research launch

Olivia Butterworth – ‘we have mobilised people to think about what they can do to make changes happen that will create more accessible, inclusive and trauma informed services that are available when and where people need them.’

First published December 2020, written by Olivia Butterworth, Head of Public Participation – Homelessness and Inclusion Health, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

 

Back in February 2020 I was privileged to attend the annual Faculty of Inclusion Health conference at which I met some of the amazing Groundswell #HealthNow peers (people with experience of homelessness). They made incredibly insightful and informed contributions in many sessions at the conference, and I went away inspired having learned a lot from them. At that point, the reality of the serious implications of COVID-19 were really starting to emerge.

At the beginning of March 2020, I was asked to lead the COVID-19 NHS response for people experiencing homelessness. I knew that the only way to take on this challenge was to develop relationships with organisations fast, and that the involvement of people with lived experience and having ways to connect with people directly affected by homelessness was going to be essential to make sure that we were fully informed about the realities of being homeless during the pandemic. That really was the start of amazing partnerships with many organisations, especially Groundswell.

Groundswell’s research ‘monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing homelessness’ launched today (21st December 2020) has provided us with real time insight into the reality of what was and wasn’t working, what the issues were that we needed to focus on, and what people really needed us to address. Our response has definitely not been perfect, but it’s been way better with the input of Groundswell’s network. We have used the regular monitoring briefings, the diaries and stories to have some really challenging discussions. As a result, we have mobilised people to think about what they can do to make changes happen that will create more accessible, inclusive and trauma informed services that are available when and where people need them.

I have heard so many people’s stories about the reality of this experience that have horrified, humbled and driven me to make sure we improve the systems and services that are meant to be there, free at the point of need, for everyone.  I do want to say a huge thank you for the generosity with which so many people have shared their experiences, often with personal emotional cost.

As we all know COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on health inequalities. But we already knew that people who experience homelessness and other inclusion health groups have the worst health outcomes. Now that COVID-19 has shone this spotlight we need to continue to work together to really address the barriers to and the quality of care and support people need in order to live safe, healthy and happy lives.

Often people are referred to as ‘hard to reach’. I challenge that every time I hear it. It’s not people that are hard to reach, it’s the systems and services that are meant to support them who are hard to reach, and people who are easy to ignore. Working in partnership with organisations like Groundswell demonstrates that it’s easy to reach people if you reach out to them, and with the support of the organisations they have trust and confidence in.

We have a lot of work to do over the coming months and years to make sure that the most vulnerable and excluded people in our communities are able to access the services and support they need. We can do this but only by working together with people’s lived experience at the centre of everything. The evidence from this project gives us great foundations to build a better future together. Massive thanks to everyone who has participated and contributed.

Read the full research report: