Earlier this year we spoke of a project that we were just starting out with, using data linkage and new Covid-19 data in SAIL to explore the rates of coronavirus amongst people experiencing homelessness in Wales. Having recently completed and published our analysis, the results were surprising.

From the start of the pandemic there were fears within the housing sector that levels of infection would be high among people experiencing homelessness. But in an interesting turn we found evidence to suggest the opposite happened in Wales. Even when comparing people of the same geographical and personal characteristics, here in Wales levels of infection were lower among people experiencing homelessness than the wider population.

So why is this the case? During the pandemic, homelessness was approached as a public health emergency. There was a drive towards a ‘no-one left out’ approach, meaning that people on the streets were offered accommodation they may not have had access to prior to the pandemic. Emphasis was also placed on housing people in self-contained temporary accommodation. Looking at the latest figures up to September 2021, over 15,300 people had been supported into emergency temporary accommodation since the start of the pandemic.

The policy changes in Wales potentially reduced infection caused by shared communal spaces, while providing people experiencing homelessness with environments where they could isolate if needed and where the chances of Covid-19 related complications, such as pneumonia, were reduced.

So, what’s next for this work? We now plan to follow on from this initial analysis to look at the uptake of coronavirus vaccinations among people experiencing homelessness. This further work will help to assess whether policies which prioritised homeless people in Wales then led to an improved uptake in vaccinations. Both sets of findings will be fed back into the policy teams in Wales and the organisations working alongside those experiencing homelessness. This will ensure that lessons are learnt from how these interventions impacted the homeless community and most importantly their wellbeing.

Read the full study, A population level study of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence amongst people experiencing homelessness in Wales, UK