Of Not Passing: Homelessness, Addiction, Mental Health and Care During Covid-19

Article Summary by Johannes Lenhard, Meg Margetts and Eana Meng

People experiencing homelessness in the UK were unexpectedly and unconditionally offered housing (and support) from the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020. For many, that meant ‘(re)entering’ the support system and having a chance to ‘move on’ to longer-term housing. This beneficial effect of some of the policy reactions to the pandemic on people experiencing homelessness was unexpected. On the flip side, however, particularly for people struggling with drug use and mental health issues, adequate support was not available for long periods of time; support was either suspended temporarily or people were excluded from institutional support for not following lockdown rules. Similarly, digital support alternatives—modelled on increasingly widespread telemedicine—often did not work for people struggling with complex needs or women experiencing homelessness. Our paper is based on ethnographic evidence of what we observed as continued and catalysed exclusions from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on our learnings from three locally and temporally overlapping research projects between May 2020 and April 2021, we propose changes to re-design future (health) care provision to prevent such impasses—which extend beyond lockdown situations to general conditional housing and support.

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Johannes Lenhard is the founder of CHIRN and an ethnographer of venture capital and homelessness. He is affiliated with the department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge and the Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy. Having worked towards a better understanding of survival practices of homeless people in London and Paris for his PhD, he has in 2017 started a new research project on the ethics of venture capital investors He is currently preparing the publication of his dissertation monograph as well as finalising a book on diversity and inclusion in VC and tech. Find his Twitter @JFLenhard.

Meg Margetts, final year medical student at the University of Cambridge. Meg has a keen research interest in homelessness and improving access to healthcare. For the last two years, she has been involved in various research projects under the supervision of Dr Johannes Lenhard, which include the creation and evaluation of a new telemedicine service and mental health service. Her current work focuses on mapping the healthcare pathways that are accessed by people experiencing homelessness.

Eana Meng is a historian of medicine and a physician in training. She is a second year MD-PhD candidate at Harvard Medical School and the Department of History of Science. She previously was a researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University on addiction and homelessness. Her research has traced the lesser-known histories of the use of acupuncture by activists of color since the 1970s and the legacies that emerge from them, which include a five-point ear acupuncture protocol currently used around the world for substance use and behavior health conditions. She runs a blog at ofpartandparcel.com. Find her Twitter @Eanam38.

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