The research, published in the International Journal of Population Data Science, was carried out by ADR Wales housing and homelessness lead academics Dr Ian Thomas and Dr Peter Mackie, who analysed linked data from healthcare related services and Covid-19 testing results.
The research found that between 1 March 2020 and 1 March 2021, Covid-19 infection rates amongst people experiencing homelessness were 5%, compared to 6.9% among the general population of similar demographics.
These new findings suggest that changes to homelessness policy during in the pandemic may have had a positive impact on people who were experiencing homelessness at the time in reducing infection. Local authorities, social landlords, and third sector organisations implemented the policy changes. The Welsh Government made a £50 million investment and mandated a move away from communal accommodation solutions for people experiencing homelessness, instead favouring self-contained accommodation.
Dr Ian Thomas said: “The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted widespread concern about the potential impact of the virus on people experiencing homelessness. Concerns centred on people who were literally roofless and those in communal forms of accommodation, such as shelters and hostels, where facilities and air space were shared. It was feared these environments could hamper a person’s ability to adhere to public health instructions regarding hand hygiene, maintaining physical distancing, and isolation when symptomatic or following a positive test.
“By carrying out this research In Wales, with Welsh anonymised data we had the opportunity to explore coronavirus infection in a homelessness policy response setting that differed considerably to responses in many other parts of the world.”
Ian continued, “Already there is a large body of evidence that indicates that communal forms of temporary accommodation, like hostels and shelters, can do more harm than good. With the very real potential of even more transmissible coronavirus variants, combined with the approach of winter, the message is clear: there must be no return to the use of inappropriate hostels and shelters in our response to homelessness.”
The research team now plan to follow on their analysis by exploring the potential impacts of the Welsh Government decision to prioritise people experiencing homelessness for vaccination.