THE York Road Project has appealed to the government to treat people working with the homeless as a priority group for coronavirus vaccines after several of its workers tested positive.

The Woking homelessness charity has sent a joint letter with Will Forster, a county and borough councillor and former mayor, calling for those in direct contact with  rough sleepers to get a COVID-19 jab.

The move comes after several York Road Project workers and a rough sleeper helped by the charity tested positive and had to self-isolate.

Cllr Forster, who chose the project as his charity during his year as mayor, said: “Just as residents of care homes are at higher clinical risk of severe disease, so are those in homeless hostels. Staff at the York Road Project and others who work with homeless people across the country are therefore at increased personal risk of exposure to infection with COVID and of transmitting that infection.”

At the start of the pandemic the project moved from their small premises into the HG Wells Conference Centre and its adjoining hotel to meet the government guidelines on social distancing.

Within a few weeks the numbers of rough sleepers being accommodated trebled to around 40. Many of the homeless have health problems such as asthma and heard conditions. 

There were no cases of coronavirus among staff and the homeless until just before Christmas.

In an interview with the News & Mail at the end of his mayoral year, Woking-born Cllr Forster said he has been supporting the charity since he was a teenager.

“My first job as a kid was in a bakery-café in the town centre and I used to take leftover food to the shelter, which had just opened. My gran lived nextdoor and used to donate clothes from family members,” he recalled.

“When I go out into the community, sometimes to quite fancy events, people come up to me quietly saying ‘I was once homeless and the YRP or another homeless charity helped me to turn my life around. Thank you for helping to keep that going.’ This includes people from all walks of life.”

He said he chose the charity during his mayoral year because “the invaluable work they do has always been close to my heart and I was delighted to help raise much-needed funds for them. However, they still need support.”

He added: “That is why the project and I have written to the Government to prioritise frontline homelessness staff. The Government should not forget about vulnerable homeless people and those that work with them in their vaccination plans.”