‘It’s services coming together’ – Dave Woodley on the COVID-19 response for rough sleepers in London

Dave Woodley works on the ICN project; the Integrated Care Network is a three-way partnership between Groundswell and specialist GP surgeries Great Chapel Street Medical Centre and The Dr Hickey Surgery in Westminster. Their work involves working with rough sleepers to address their health needs and to provide respite, reducing hospital admissions.  Like most jobs within health and social care, Dave’s role had to adapt due to the pandemic and he has been part of the London response to COVID-19 from the beginning;

“Prior to the pandemic we would highlight people with health needs who were rough sleeping.  Get them off the street, put them into ICN beds and have kind of wrap around physical health support with me, and the specialist homeless GP practices, and give them respite.  It prevents hospital admissions basically. So the model for the coronavirus is essentially exactly the same thing, just huge. We have got hundreds of people in now, rather than four. And it’s exactly the same thing, but we are putting people in hotel rooms so they can isolate.”

Picture of ICN Care Navigator Dave WoodleyDave escorted the first people who were rough sleeping to the hotel in Wandsworth and he supported the residents the hotel for the first week before falling ill with the virus himself;

I always like to keep busy and I am out all day working – to go from that to staying at home for ten days, it’s really, really challenging.  And then you have the kind of mental health aspects. A lot of people are talking about anxieties, depression coming back. And that can be around physical health, but also around the general situation society is currently in. We are all wondering how long this is going to last for.”

Dave is currently working wherever he’s needed. He’s worked in the hotels screening residents for COVID-19 and with the medical teams to ensure the residents health needs are being met. Dave says if a person does develop COVID-19 symptoms, they are transferred via black cab to another facility;

“We used the black cabs because there is a natural screen divider between the driver and the passenger…And obviously they haven’t got any work because nobody is really out. So they were identified as ideal. So Westminster paid for two cab drivers and they were just a godsend.” 

Dave says a pan London approach has worked, things are much better compared to at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis;

“So as you can imagine at first, it was quite difficult to put that altogether.  Different agencies, different boroughs, if you can imagine a lot of people have been dispersed. That’s been the big challenge. A lot of people let’s say…Westminster clients are being placed…places like Wandsworth or out of borough or even the other way round.  If somebody is kind of…the outer boroughs can be Lambeth, City, Camden – they are being placed in hotels in other boroughs.  That makes it more difficult.  But it is happening now.” 

Dave explains that some of the barriers with gaining methadone scripting for clients have been removed, as have some of the restrictions for people without recourse to public funds which has made supporting these clients easier. He talks about the emerging mental health needs of his clients and what services are doing to support people who are self-isolating. In Westminster, clients who are known to mental health services are being provided a phone support service and psychologists are going into the hotels where people are self- isolating up to three times a week to provide extra support;

“Yeah there is a lot going on. A lot of really good work. But I think its slightly different in Westminster compared to other boroughs. And Westminster is certainly the forefront, they started first. They are kind of the model. So I think other councils are taking the lead from Westminster and picking it up as they go. But a lot of services are in place now in Westminster, whether its mental health, drug and alcohol, physical health – they’re all in place.”

Dave has seen the impact on the workers in the hotels;

“People are…working extremely long hours, putting themselves at risk, going to work.  Extremely high stress situations.  Making life and death decisions. The emotional impacts that must have on the workers.  But the clients as well – it’s kind of two-fold, we are all in the same boat.  Whether you are a client, a patient or a professional -we are all in the same boat.  We are sharing this together. The anxieties are still the same.” 

And the impact on the client’s he’s worked with;

“The first night that I went out, we had a lady in who was a Polish lady and I was looking for her and I found her at Connections when it was still open. And I explained that we had a hotel room for her. But she had a partner and he wasn’t on the list. So trying to convince someone to leave their partner and come inside – it was quite emotional, they were both crying. And it was difficult for me to say look, we want to make you this offer, but he can’t come, it’s just you. So, I separated a couple…Yeah, so I made sure she had a phone and she had credit so they could speak every day. But to try and convince someone for their own health to come in, but to leave their partner… it was very, very emotional.”

Dave remains positive that this situation can improve working relationships and bring us closer together;

“I think for me it’s really highlighted the delicate nature out society is in, as well as our personal situations. So, I think that could potentially bring us together. But also, I hope that the homeless population have seen the hard work that everyone is putting in.  We have scooped up I think… across London, we are looking at 1100 people into hotel rooms.  So, I am hoping that it will bring us closer together, because clients will say do you know that? The local authorities, the GP practices, all tried really hard to protect them and get them in. And hopefully that forms a lasting relationship moving forward”. 

Dave says it’s hugely positive that services have come together to joint work and provide the best support possible;

“It’s services coming together as well, it really is.  It was always getting better if …services joint working. But at the moment it’s incredible. Absolutely incredible. Services really working together across the board – drug and alcohol, mental health, homeless health, commissioners. Everybody is working together.  It’s incredible.”