photo: Anya* says she wants to protect herself and others

18 February 2021

All 101 guests staying at Glass Door’s central London hostels were offered the chance to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday 15 February. A team of three nurse practitioners from the NHS Homeless Health team arrived ready to answer questions and administer the Pfizer vaccine to everyone who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity 

Anya*, a woman staying at the hostels, looked visibly nervous. “I can’t stand needles,” she said while waiting her turn. She found out on Friday that the team would be visiting, and while she had told staff that she would probably have the vaccine, she wasn’t sure until the last minute whether she would go through with it.  

Manu, a peer advocate from Groundswell, was there to help. I fainted recently when I had to give some blood at the doctors,” he said, empathising with Anya. “But this jab isn’t a big dealYou’re hardly going to feel it,” he reassured her.    

Manu lived on the streets for years until about four years ago when he got clean and became a father. Pointing to one of the NHS health team members, he said: “Zoe saved my life”.  

photo: Anne, Zoe, Dominic and Manu prepare to offer vaccinations to the guests staying with Glass Door

Now, Manu is working alongside Zoe and her colleagues as a peer advocate offering services to people who are homeless and in need of healthcare.  

When Anya’s name was called, she took a deep breath and went ahead. Anya said:

I’m doing it because it’s protecting me and everyone else.

Barriers  

Although people who are homeless are not recognised as a special group to receive prioritisation for Covid-19 vaccinations, Anya and the other guests staying at the Glass Door hostels were able to access the vaccines thanks to a recognition that people who are homeless are particularly vulnerable and hard to reach 

The Mayor of London’s team wrote in an open letter to the UK’s vaccine advisory committee that people experiencing homelessness should be prioritised. (See "Vaccinate homeless Londoners before March deadline, says deputy mayor", published in the Big Issue.) The team noted a number of reasons that justified prioritising this group, including vulnerability to Covid-19, poor access to healthcare, and a window of opportunity before emergency winter accommodations end.   

Glass Door and many other charities in the homeless sector agree. Glass Door staff have been in contact with local MPs, health and housing contacts in local boroughs to advocate on behalf of guests that a special programme aimed at members of the homeless population is needed.     

"As an open-access service, Glass Door often supports people who have been turned away elsewhere. Too many times people have been let down by the system, and they are understandably cautious," says Lucy Abraham, Glass Door CEO. She adds:

We know how important it is to make accessing services as easy as possible.

The efforts have paid off.  

The NHS team has been busy administering vaccines since 10 February at hostels and hotels throughout Westminster, the area with the largest concentration of people who are homeless in the UK.  

Dominic, one of the NHS Homeless Health team members said:

In my experience, having people on-site who can relate and reassure makes a big difference.

A guest of hostels receives vaccine

photo: A hostel guest receives his vaccine from Zoe.

Mixed results

By the end of Monday 15 February, 52 Glass Door hostel guests had received the first dose of the vaccine.

The first hostel visited had a higher uptake (75%) than the second one visited by the team.  In the first hostel, "things went about as well as we could have hoped," said operations manager Matthew Falk.

Staff will be reviewing the process to inform future practices, says Matthew.


*Anya's name has been changed to respect her anonymity.


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