John Gibbons is a Groundswell Case Worker who is currently testing the homeless community for COVID-19. John works alongside the ‘Find and Treat’ team across London to test people in hostels or the hotels where people who rough sleep have been temporary accommodated.
First published May 2020 in the Pavement magazine ‘Health & Wellbeing in a Crisis’ edition, interview carried out by Sarah Hough, Research Project Worker, Groundswell
As he says;
“We are constantly chasing the virus…Luckily we (Find and Treat) have been working alongside another team at Mortimer Market Centre. They managed to source some swabs and we received more from UCLH (University College London Hospital). Interestingly, the reason for some of the worldwide shortage is because one of the main producers of the swabs is actually in Lombardy in Italy and no one is allowed into the factory because of the Lockdown. The swabs were difficult to get and without them we wouldn’t be able to do this at all.”
Adapting to the new situation has been difficult for John. When asked about the challenges he’s come up against in this role a key issue is explaining the need for testing to people with mental health issues or learning disabilities or when English is not their first language. Having to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can also be hot and uncomfortable.
John reflects on the challenges of being part of organising the COVID-19 care provision. As usual politics plays a part and can be a barrier.
John stresses the importance of maintaining social distancing even if you’re not showing any symptoms.
“We tested 110 people in a hostel in about 4 hours. 4% were positive and not showing any symptoms. People assume they are fine but they are really, really not. When there’s one infected in a hotel, there will be more if not properly socially distanced”
He also reflects on the impact that being in isolation is having on people:
“I think the challenging thing is the lack of human interaction, we’re unable to hug each other which is massive, that’s so big. There are people in the hostels with mental health issues who are unable to see their friends or their family or go and do the things that they used to. For people who drink or take drugs they are often quite social beings so they haven’t got that interaction anymore…The consequences of this could be serious for a few people and I think a few people have already started to fall from that.”
John recommends calling friends and family or Face timing or video calling if possible rather than texting: “Eye contact is important, as much visual stimulation as possible.”
Exercise and sunlight are important and John says to do all of the things that you’re allowed to do; go for a walk, exercise and be around nature if you can.
John suggests; “If you haven’t got anything to do or you’re feeling like you not achieving anything during lockdown, write yourself a list, set yourself tasks so it makes you feel like you’ve done something productive. “Try to take advantage of the situation and think about what you want to do afterwards.”
“I think there’s a lot of people on the street who just needed a break and this might be the break they needed. They’re in a room, they’ve got their own TV, they’ve got 3 meals a day, they haven’t got to brave the harsh conditions out there so this could be a good thing for a lot of people. This is just what they needed, it gives them a chance to access mental health services, psychotherapists and key workers and really talk about their stuff. If we can get that into the hostels that would be incredible. It could be a really good thing.”
When asked what we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis; John says;
“I think afterwards we will learn a lot about this and about ourselves and the true value of each other”.
John’s salary is currently being paid by the London Community Response Fund.