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cover photo: Lee Snowball risked cycling in and out of A&E, photo used with permission from The Doctor

7 January 2020

By Neil Parkinson

According to a report recently published by the British Medical Association, the number of people with no fixed abode attending A&E has nearly trebled since 2010/2011.  

The report published in The Doctor, entitled “No place to recover”, calls the growing number of homeless people using emergency health services a “horror story”.

The report makes for sobering reading, but having witnessed a similar trend in my position as senior caseworker at Glass Door, the findings come as no surprise.

More is needed

Increasingly this winter, we see people turning to Glass Door winter shelters straight from hospital. For example, a man with a serious health condition has been between our shelters and the hospital constantly since we opened our doors this season. A shelter manager had to call an ambulance for a shelter guest who was having a seizure - this same guest had been discharged from hospital earlier that day.

Another guest is undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

While 170 people stay in a Glass Door shelter every night during the coldest five months of the year, the conditions in our shelters are very basic. Guests sleep on a mat on the floor of a church hall and leave the next morning to make their way to a different church the next night. 

It’s better than sleeping on the street in the cold and rain. But for someone recently released from hospital, far more is often needed to make a full recovery possible.

A vicious cycle

Rough sleepers face harsh conditions that can leave them more vulnerable to getting sick: pneumonia, mental health problems and trench foot are common in the homeless community. But after getting medical help, patients experiencing homelessness have nowhere permanent to stay, so end up never fulling recovering or getting ill again.

This vicious cycle will continue whilst homelessness is so prevalent in Britain.

Without long-term support to get off the streets, too often patients released from hospital back to the streets will quickly end up in hospital again.

Housing is key to recovery

The solution is obvious: give people experiencing homelessness a safe place to stay where they can address the causes of their health and homelessness in a more stable environment.

For many, housing support is available. However, the barriers can seem overwhelming to someone distrustful or unused to interacting in a bureaucratic system. The strain on the NHS would be eased if hospitals and housing offices had funds to hire more people who understand how to break down these barriers.

However, at Glass Door, we find a growing number of people turning to us have been declared ineligible for support. The list of reasons why is long. For these people (labelled as having “no recourse to public funds”), there is frustratingly little we can do besides provide the mat on a floor of a church hall. 

With a growing number of people falling through the cracks, society must choose whether we find this acceptable, or whether we need to make amends. 

Are there times when we should set aside rules about who is and is not worthy of support? Surely someone at risk of dying on the street needs more than our mere sympathy?

So either the government amends policy to accommodate all in need when health conditions are grave, or the NHS and our non-governmental sector are left desperately trying to stitch together the holes in our deteriorating safety net.

At Glass Door, we believe that homelessness is not inevitable, and that a safe place to stay should be a human right.

Not only would stable housing prevent a great deal of suffering among the most vulnerable people in our society, it would ease the burden and the cost on the NHS.

If you would like to work towards a future where no one has to sleep rough in London, join the Glass Door community.


For further information on the rise in demand for Glass Door’s services, read our story here.