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  • Make a Change Team

Government release COVID-19 guidance for the provision of night shelters

The Government have provided operating principles for commissioners and providers of night shelters for people experiencing rough sleeping. Read the full and most up to date guidance here.


Local authorities and voluntary, faith, and community groups have gone to extraordinary lengths since March 2020 to protect vulnerable people who sleep rough from the risks of COVID-19. This has seen communal shelters either being closed or transformed into self-contained accommodation to reduce the spread COVID-19. These adapted models often provide safer environments, offer greater protection to individuals with underlying health conditions, and can produce better move-on outcomes for individuals.

However, we know that local circumstances may mean that there are occasions where a local area decides to put in place communal models to prevent people sleeping rough, particularly in extreme weather.

This guidance has been drafted with advice and input from Public Health England. This guidance sets out advice on how night shelters can operate more safely, based on public health principles. Although many restrictions have been lifted, guests and staff can still catch and spread coronavirus. Following this guidance will help people attending or working in shelters, to stay safe while the risk of infection remains.

This guidance applies in England alongside the relevant associated changes to the law. It applies to night shelters only. It does not apply to private dwellings.

Priority actions to take

Let fresh air in

Make sure you let plenty of fresh air into any shelters. You or the venue manager can do this by uncovering vents, and opening doors and windows.

Letting fresh air into indoor spaces is important because when a person infected with COVID-19 coughs, talks or breathes, they release droplets and aerosols which can be breathed in by another person. The more fresh air there is to breathe, the less likely a person is to inhale infectious particles.

Limit close contact

Although social distancing is no longer required, staff, volunteers, and guests may choose to limit the close contact they have with people they do not usually live with, particularly if they are not fully vaccinated. This is a personal choice which can help reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. You should be prepared to support those who wish to maintain social distancing, especially around those who may be more vulnerable. Providers of shelter accommodation may also want to consider the proximity and density of guests, as well as the duration and regularity of any interactions.

Wash your hands

Guests, staff, and volunteers should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day. Regular hand washing is an effective way to reduce the risk of catching illnesses, including COVID-19.

Guests, staff, and volunteers should wash their hands:

  • after coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose

  • before they eat or handle food.

  • after coming into contact with surfaces touched by many others, such as handles, handrails and light switches

  • after coming into contact with shared areas such as kitchens and bathrooms

  • as soon as you return home

  • along with hand washing, providers should conduct regular cleaning and encourage guests to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Support those with COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive to self-isolate

In order to keep people in shelters safe, providers should support guests who test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate and get a PCR test, even if their symptoms are mild. Any individuals who test positive must self-isolate, even if they are fully vaccinated. This also applies to staff and volunteers working in shelters.

Please see further guidance below on what to do if a guest develops COVID-19 symptoms.

Encourage vaccination

Vaccinations significantly reduce the risk of catching COVID-19. Anybody entering a shelter, whether as a member of staff, a volunteer, or a service user, should consider getting vaccinated, if they haven’t already.

Providers should also consider how to increase uptake among their guests, including encouraging guests who have only had their first dose, to have their second.

Get tested

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test, even if your symptoms are mild and you are fully vaccinated. Staff and volunteers should self-isolate at home while they book the test and wait for the results. You must self-isolate if you test positive. Your isolation period includes the day your symptoms started (or the day your test was taken if you do not have symptoms), and the next 10 full days. This is the law.

Providers should support staff, volunteers and guests to access regular asymptomatic lateral flow (LFD) testing, and confirmatory PCR testing where appropriate. Rapid lateral flow testing is available for free to anybody, but is particularly focused on those who are not fully vaccinated. Providers should also develop plans to support people with COVID-19 symptoms, or a positive test, to isolate and to trace their recent contacts.

The NHS COVID-19 app is a vital part of NHS Test and Trace in England and Wales. Using the app helps stop the spread of the virus by informing you that you have been in close contact with someone who has since tested positive for coronavirus, even if you don’t know each other. Those who are able to use the app should be encouraged to do so.

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