ANNA is a grown woman but looks about 16. You’ll know someone just like her. She sits on a city street, in all weathers, wrapped in a soggy sleeping bag, with a plastic cup in front of her.

Anna (not her real name), who would dearly love to get a job, depends upon the coins people give her, but in the past few days she has started to fret. She now wonders whether touching the coins might make her ill. She struggles to follow the official advice on regular hand-washing because she doesn’t have easy access to a tap and has no hand sanitiser either.

The winter hostel she’s been sleeping in closes just after dawn each day and she fears she wouldn’t be able to go there anyway if she were ill.

Her mother is “long long way”, she says, with a wave of her hand to indicate the distance – 2,000 miles away, in fact, on the other side of a locked-down Europe. Anna has friends but they are in the same position as her. So if she gets coronavirus, where will she go?

Anna is one of hundreds of homeless people who spend their days on the streets of Scotland, and their nights in church halls or on friends’ sofas. She desperately wants to avoid the disease, but how? How do you protect yourself without a secure home?

We can look to politicians to solve problems like this, but only a fortnight into this national emergency, it’s already clear that many of the answers to the problems thrown up by coronavirus are coming from below, the question of how to protect the homeless among them. It’s a remarkable change that could have lasting consequences for Scottish society.

If coronavirus is the enemy at the gates, most of us are at least holed up inside prepared for the siege, but the roofless are uniquely exposed.

The police will soon have emergency powers to detain people on the street suspected of carrying the virus and put them in isolation. Many homeless people are likely to be picked up as being a risk to others, but the aim should be to help them stay infection-free.

Homeless people have poorer mental and physical health than the population at large as it is, rough sleepers in particular. NHS Health Scotland notes that many health conditions homeless people develop in their forties and fifties are more commonly seen in people decades older. They can really do without coronavirus.

The Scottish Government, councils and voluntary agencies are well aware of the challenges facing this most vulnerable of vulnerable groups and are scrambling to respond. On Wednesday, Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell announced £50m for the Wellbeing Fund, some of it specifically to help councils in this regard. Local authorities are now working out their plans.

But perhaps the answer is right in front of us, if we have the courage to be radical: hotels. After a catastrophic collapse in bookings, hotels could be brought back to life as havens for the homeless, homeless charities have suggested. Many will require generous government grants to stay afloat anyway and could be turned into temporary complexes where homeless men, women and children could isolate themselves in en suite rooms to avoid getting the infection.

Specific hotels, given the right support, could be used to house the smaller number who become ill, taking pressure off the NHS.

The Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has suggested empty office buildings could be used for a similar purpose.

All this may sound glib, gimmicky even, but there is a tantalising logic to it.

Rough sleepers aren’t the only ones who could benefit. The majority of homeless people are sofa-surfers, families crammed into spare rooms or the residents of B&Bs who must share bathrooms and cooking facilities with strangers. Many are living cheek by jowl with elderly parents and grandparents. Giving these individuals and families refuge in idle hotels would surely be safer than that.

It throws up certain difficulties, but they are not insurmountable.

People could be dissuaded from congregating in the hotel dining rooms or lounges, for instance, by shutting them and providing room service only, and to minimise hotel staff being exposed to infection risk residents could clean their own rooms.

Innovation like this is the spirit of the times. There’s an extraordinary energy about society’s response to the coronavirus emergency. Bureaucratic roadblocks to progress that stymie radical solutions in normal times are being swept aside – look at the Government’s relaxation of regulations to allow pubs and restaurants to become takeaways.

When an entire society of five million people all suddenly have the same priority, unprecedented change can happen.

This is creating an inversion in the relationship between the Government and individuals. This has been a remarkably centralising Government in general but there are powerful signs of recognition by ministers that communities, not civil servants or politicians, are best placed to find solutions to the proliferating problems coronavirus has created.

Ms Campbell, speaking in Holyrood, was almost begging for help. “Our funding package will be focused on delivery, not bureaucracy or red tape,” she declared. “Where people and organisations have solutions or ideas, I want to hear them. Unless we work with local partners the impact of our investment will not be felt by those that need it most.”

At the same time, the crisis has exposed our almost total dependence as a society on the private sector, particularly workers on low wages, such as supermarket staff and couriers. These logistical teams are the other emergency service right now, the ones who will keep us all fed and connected through these frightening times.

Through adversity, we are going round, under, over or through the barriers that might previously have halted us in our tracks. Pressing hotels into use for the homeless? Why not?

Housing has long been a Cinderella service; even the devastating Grenfell Tower fire only propelled it into the headlines for a few months.

At the end of all this, we need to accelerate homebuilding, to give the economy a much-needed boost and ensure people are better able to protect themselves in a future crisis.

But right now, we need a radical solution for all the Annas out there who wonder how on earth they will get through this.

Read more: The dazzling Budget that is setting up the Tories to fail