Health has been a significant concern for Big Issue vendors in Oxford, particularly as the colder weather sets in.
As a response, we decided to run a Focus on Health event: during the event we had 61 discussions with vendors on the theme of health. 17 vendors to date have completed a health survey and we will continue to encourage vendors to complete these over the coming months.
The survey highlighted several areas of need.
2 vendors were not registered with a GP. If you don’t have proof of address when you want to register with a GP, you can find yourself being turned away. However, NHS guidelines say that GP services cannot refuse to register someone because they are homeless, do not have proof of address or identification, or because of their immigration status.
This was discussed with both vendors; one voiced a fear due to negative experiences. The other, a new vendor, had not been registered for over 6 months. We referred them to a GP and they are now registered.
12 vendors had received a free flu jab and 2 were inspired through the survey to request a flu jab. Anyone who has ever experienced flu will know how awful it can be and if you are sleeping rough, it can become life threatening.
9 vendors were registered with a dentist. One study by the British Dental Association found that 60% of those sleeping rough had experienced dental pain since they had been homeless. 15% of participants had even pulled out their own teeth since they had been homeless.
7 vendors expressed struggling with mental health problems. One of these vendors expressed needing additional support. This vendor was referred to MIND, a local day service. A member of the team later supported this vendor by accompanying them to their initial session.
9 vendors reported addictions but only 5 engaged with regular support. We recognised a need to continue to encourage those with such issues to engage with local services who can support them.
Through highlighting these areas of health need, we are better informed to strategically target the need and connect our vendors with the support required to overcome barriers and engage constructively with health services.
As an initial step, each of the vendors who participated received an individualised health pack. Hats, gloves and a generous donation of items from LUSH were accompanied by relevant and needs-targeted information on local services and health issues; these were all held in canvas bags, generously provided by Daily Info.