It aims to continue the “amazing” success of the “Everyone In” initiative that, from the start of the pandemic, saw City Hall and the 33 boroughs arrange emergency hotel or hostel rooms for more than 8,500 homeless people across the capital.
The £1m detox unit at St Thomas’s hospital, in Lambeth, will be the first pan-London inpatient unit for homeless people who need medical help to bring their life-threatening misuse of drugs or alcohol safely under control.
The five-bed unit, which opens on June 14, will offer stays of up to 21 days. It aims to help at least 162 people a year, potentially save many lives and start to address “entrenched” inequalities as the capital rebuilds from the pandemic.
It is the first of a number of specialist services to be launched across London as health chiefs seek to continue the approach – adopted as an emergency response to covid – of tackling homelessness on a pan-London basis.
Alison Keating, Public Health England’s London head of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, said: “There is no current pan-London provision for those with the most complex needs. This is the first step on the journey to a healthier and happier life.”
She said the unit would provide “life-changing and life-saving treatments to some of London’s most vulnerable homeless people”.
Mark Dronfield, from the charity Turning Point, who manages drug and alcohol provision in central London, said the “Everyone In” approach had enabled many homeless people to turn their lives around. “There have been some amazing outcomes,” he said.
He said the new unit would “super-charge” efforts to help those most in need – with healthcare professions on hand to ensure the detox process was done safely. There will also be access to psychiatrists and psychologists.
“Thousands of people went through the ‘rough sleepers hotels’ and drug and alcohol treatment but there are still groups of people who we need to do something bespoke for,” Mr Dronfield said.
“Many of them need long-term mental health services. Many people are sleeping rough not just because of the lack of a home.”
The number of people living on the city’s streets between January and March was down 16 per cent on a year earlier to 316, according to GLA data.
Outreach teams also recorded 1,567 people sleeping rough in the capital for the first time, down from 1,841 a year earlier, of which 78 per cent spent just one night outdoors.
The unit has been established with Ministry of Housing and council funds via a partnership involving PHE, the Greater London Authority, the City of London Corporation and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust.
Dr Ian Abbs, chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Our expert medical and nursing teams will work with mental health colleagues to provide specialist care in one suite.”