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29.11.16

Homelessness charity highlights ‘mental health crisis’ facing rough sleepers

Local authorities with high numbers of rough sleepers do not have enough specialist mental health services to cope with demand, a new report has revealed.

The homelessness charity St. Mungo’s used a Freedom of Information request to ask health and local commissioners in 111 areas with 10 or more rough sleepers on any one night to identify which of its services specifically provided mental health assessment, support and treatment to rough sleepers.

The charity’s consequent report, ‘Stop the Scandal: the case for action on mental health and rough sleeping’, shows that over two thirds (68%) of relevant local authorities and CCGs fail to commission specialist mental health services actively targeting rough sleepers at all.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St. Mungo’s said:  “Despite the mental health inequalities faced by people sleeping rough, most commissioners are not rising to the challenge with targeted mental health services.

“We know mental health services are extremely stretched but by focusing resources we can not only alleviate the human cost but potentially save money over the long term, if people receive the help they need at the time they need it.”

Numbers of rough sleepers have doubled in England over the last six years, increasing by 102% since 2010. St. Mungo’s estimate that on any given night in autumn of last year 3,569 people slept rough and Sinclair warned that the number is likely to be higher this year.

The report, which includes findings from in-depth interviews with 21 recent rough sleepers, revealed that people coming to the streets with mental health problems are made further ill due to sleeping rough, with over a third of interviewees having contemplated or attempted suicide.

“Rough sleeping is dangerous and ruins lives and people with mental health problems are particularly at risk amongst this group of very vulnerable people,” Sinclair added.

“Our research indicates that four in 10 people sleeping rough have a mental health problem. By any measure these figures are unacceptable. We urge the government to take action and produce a new, ambitious strategy to stop the scandal of people sleeping rough.”

St Mungo’s clients have since written to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to request an urgent meeting about funding for specialist homeless mental health services. The charity is also holding a reception in Parliament to discuss the issue with MPs and peers including the local government minister Marcus Jones MP and public health minister Nicola Blackwood MP.

The report outlined five principles for authorities commissioning services for people sleeping rough with mental health problems, advising that when commissioned and delivered, the service should be accessible, attentive, understanding, caring and persistent.  

The report also recommended a new strategy to end rough sleeping led by the ministerial working group on homelessness, including funding to help local areas to develop services; that GPs and mental health practitioners should have a good working knowledge of homelessness; and that local commissioners should make specialist services clearer to rough sleepers who need them.

(Image: c. Trowbridge Estate)

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