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Measures to provide Covid-19 testing and accommodation for homeless underway

A consultant who works with the homeless community and other vulnerable groups in Dublin has told this newspaper that measures are being taken to provide Covid-19 testing for the community and to find appropriate accommodation during the pandemic.

Dr Clíona Ni Cheallaigh, Consultant and Clinical Lead for the Inclusion Health service at St James’s Hospital, told the Medical Independent (MI) today (19 March) that the homeless community face particular difficulties during the current health crisis.  

“Yes they do face a challenge – [they have a] higher risk of getting infected and higher risk of getting very sick when infected,” she said.

Dr Ni Cheallaigh said that measures are currently underway to find accommodation for those in the homeless community who are at particular high risk.

“[There is] work going on to move homeless people at high risk of getting very sick into single rooms, etc,” she added.

Dr Ni Cheallaigh also said work is underway with Safetynet Primary Care to test homeless people for Covid-19.

Safetynet Primary Care is an initiative that began in 2007 as a network for health professionals and organisations working to improve healthcare access for homeless people.

In terms of the difficulties facing the homeless community during the pandemic, Dr Ni Cheallaigh said these include “lack of appropriate accommodation – ideally all homeless people should be in single rooms with en-suite bathrooms and [have their] own cooking facilities. This would prevent spread [of Covid-19].”

Earlier this month, Dublin-based GP and founder of Safetynet Primary Care Dr Austin O’Carroll told MI that the homeless community face “significant risk” during the spread of Covid-19, that people who are homeless often “have a lot of co-morbidities” and “many live in hostels and eat in food halls so [it’s] more likely to spread”.

“Lastly for those sleeping on street, having Covid-19 would leave them very vulnerable obviously,” he told this newspaper.

On 4 March the HSE published ‘Coronvirus (Covid-19) guidance for homeless and vulnerable groups’. The five-page guidance document “gives general advice about preventing the spread of Covid-19 in homeless settings and for migrants/refugees and vulnerable groups.”

The document notes that members of vulnerable groups and those who work with them should “have a plan for dealing [with] persons who become ill with symptoms of Covid-19 including immediately isolating them from other people and seeking medical advice (eg, phone a GP/ emergency department/ public health).”

“Have a plan for how the setting will manage core services (eg, accommodation, food, meals, laundry, cleaning, showers, toilets) in the event of someone becoming ill with Covid-19).”

Our recent feature on health and homelessness can be found here

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