The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been challenging for all, impacting every aspect of global life with devastating consequences. However, many people have kept their own mental health & wellbeing afloat by contacting friends and family, whilst others have had time for self-fulfilment with creative activities. These individuals have attained the highest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and represent the majority of the population during the pandemic.
The opposite is true particularly for those within the homeless community. An increasing number of the UK population have not been able to attain even the lowest level of need where basic needs such as food, water, warmth and rest are not available. The pre-existing housing crisis in the UK alongside the pandemic has meant extraordinary efforts are required to tackle the growing numbers and evolving needs of the homeless.
Who is Shelter?
As a Team Leader for Shelter’s Fundraising team located in Sheffield, I have become aware of the disproportionate impact that COVID has had on those that are homeless or vulnerable.
Shelter is the largest homeless charity in the UK and has been changing the lives of the homeless through support, housing advice and legal services since 1966. They not only help those that are homeless find emergency accommodation and housing, but they help millions of people fight for better housing rights each year. Shelter also works to help those with the most complex needs and who are often faced with barriers to accessing appropriate support and healthcare. Innovative service models and tailored support means that those experiencing homelessness, addiction, criminal proceedings and mental health issues can find a way out.
Many of Shelter’s campaign successes have brought changes to housing laws. As a student living in a rented property, I’m aware of tenants forced from their homes after complaining to their landlord about poor conditions. Shelter proposed to change the law with a campaign. Efforts were successful and by 2015, eviction revenge was illegal.
COVID Impact on the homeless
In an unforeseen crisis such as a global pandemic, management of the consequences is unlikely to be perfect and although a significant community effort was encouraged throughout Sheffield there is still a continued flow of people experiencing homelessness for the first time.
Crisis UK explain that a steep rise in homelessness occurred during the second wave of the pandemic as many found themselves in difficult living situations. Much of the UK was furloughed whilst others were left unemployed, unable to pay rent or provide for their families.
Emergency shelters were closed down whilst community hostels remained open. Whilst essential, the crowded nature of these hostels put residents at higher risk of contracting the virus than the general population. A study from University College London (UCL) estimated that 21,092 infections and 266 deaths that were preventable in the first wave were due to a lack of preventative hygiene and barrier measures in community housing and hostels.1
The Government announced the ‘Everyone In’ scheme in March 2020 which urged local authorities to provide emergency accommodation to those sleeping rough or at risk. It was estimated that from June 2019 to June 2020, 12,060 more people were provided with temporary accommodation as a result of the policy, the ban on private rented sector evictions and lengthened notice periods for landlords.2 However, those living in temporary accommodation are often referred to as the ‘hidden homeless’ as although they are off the streets, they still remain without a home. The scheme would therefore have a limited effect on the wider issue at hand.
With the charity relying heavily on face-to-face fundraising, Shelter has struggled to gain attention and funds from the public. Following 5 months of furlough, it was announced that the Shelter fundraising department in Sheffield was to close indefinitely due to significant financial losses caused by the pandemic.. An advert was televised to increase awareness and donations, but unfortunately, this was unable to replicate the success of our passionate and dedicated fundraisers. The closing of Shelter’s face-to-face services during the pandemic has meant that the 25,380 people in the UK that are utilising them every year, are left helpless in already unimaginable living situations.3
National UK data found that mortality rates are double in those that are homeless with COVID-19 in comparison with the general population.4 This emphasises the need to greatly increase the efforts to tackle homelessness, however, sufficient funding still remains a large barrier to doing so.
I encourage those who are celebrating the near end of the pandemic to not forget the 280,000 people currently homeless in England.5 With a child facing homelessness every 8 minutes in the UK, urgent action is required.6 By regularly donating the cost of 2 cups of coffee each week to Shelter, you can help house a whole family.
Shelter’s current coronavirus campaign is urging the public to sign their petition to ensure a safe home for those homeless during the pandemic by requesting the government to (1) provide safe emergency accommodation to everyone at risk of the streets, (2) help renters pay off arrears built up due to COVID-19 and (3) scrap the benefit cap and review housing benefit rates. You can sign the petition Here
You can also make a one-off or monthly donation on the Shelter website.
Lewer D, Braithwaite I, Bullock M, Eyre M, White P, Aldridge R et al. COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness in England: a modelling study. Lancet Respir Med [online]. 2020 [cited 2021 Jan]; 8(12): 1181-1191. Doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30396-9
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. Statutory homelessness in England: April to June 2020 [online]. 2020 Oct [cited 2021 Jan]. Available at:
Shelter England. Impact report 2019/2020 [online]. 2021 Jan [cited 2021 Mar]. Available at: https://assets.ctfassets.net/6sxvmndnpn0s/23GxLfXPB0ZIkdrxMxfoW9/ef6bdf36f94eb1fe1647ebf4344c3e96/CTX-194_Impact_Report_19_20_FINAL_ONLINE.pdf
Office for National Statistics. Deaths involving COVID-19 by local area and socioeconomic deprivation: deaths occurring between 1 March and 31 July 2020 [online]. 2020 Aug [cited 2021 Jan]. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsinvolvingcovid19bylocalareasanddeprivation/deathsoccurringbetween1marchand31july2020
Shelter England. 280,000 people in England are homeless, with thousands more at risk [press release]. 2019 Dec [cited 2021 Jan]. Available at: https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_release/280,000_people_in_england_are_homeless,_with_thousands_more_at_risk
Shelter England. A child becomes homeless in Britain very eight minutes [press release]. 2019 Dec [cited 2021 Jan]. Available at: https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_release/a_child_becomes_homeless_in_britain_every_eight_minutes