Health advice, hot meals and haircuts on offer to support people experiencing homelessness

Published: 18 December 2023

Rachel Canter from Hertfordshire County Council health improvement team sitting at a desk while talking to a homeless resident.
Rachel Canter from Hertfordshire County Council health improvement team with a homeless resident.

Hertfordshire County Council, the NHS and local charities and community groups have come together to bring vital health services, advice and support to people experiencing homelessness in one place.

Held every three months in homeless hostels in Borehamwood, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Stevenage and Watford, the sessions connect people with services they are particularly in need of but have difficulty accessing.

Among those represented are:

  • Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust’s vaccination team, offering vaccinations against flu and COVID-19
  • Hertfordshire County Council’s health protection nurses who provided cancer screening and general health advice and the health improvement team with practical support to help people stop smoking
  • Herts MIND, offering mental health support
  • Change, Grow Live, a charity which helps those with drug and alcohol addiction
  • Breakeven, a charity with support for gambling addiction
  • Local barbers providing free haircuts.

The sessions take place in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere in communal areas of the hostels, and last for three to four hours. Residents and other local rough sleepers are free to drop in as and when they like, with food and drink also provided.

While health and wellbeing support is available to people experiencing homelessness all year round, combining it with other vital services such as vaccinations in one place brings added benefit.

Morris Bright MBE, executive member for Public Health and Community Safety at Hertfordshire County Council, said: “This is such an important project as it is actively addressing health inequalities within this community and reducing some of the barriers that people who are homeless may experience in accessing health services.”

Aurea Dileto, Hertfordshire County Council health protection nurse, who has been co-ordinating the sessions, said: “This project has been a fantastic opportunity to support our homeless community.

“I organise and co-ordinate services that will be of most benefit for the residents and strive to make our event days as informative as possible in a relaxed environment.

“Feedback from the residents has been very positive as they feel comfortable to engage, and have built trust with our professionals.

“For myself, this experience has been truly humbling and enlightening.”

Cllr Bright added: “Aurea and her team are doing a fantastic job, helping those who are homeless to get the support they need - whether it’s help for overcoming an addiction, a friendly face to talk to or getting a flu and COVID-19 booster to protect them this winter.

“It’s wonderful to see us working so closely with the NHS, charities and community groups to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Dr Jane Halpin, Chief Executive of the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board, said: “Reducing barriers to accessing vital health services is a key priority not only for the NHS but for our partners across Hertfordshire and west Essex.

“The need to address health inequalities has never been more urgent but by working with our partners we can identify the communities most in need and come up with effective solutions to address the challenges in front of us. This project for people affected by homelessness is an excellent example of how we can achieve more for everyone in Hertfordshire and west Essex by working together.”