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Housing associations: proactive and reactive to homelessness

Source: PSE Aug/Sep 16

Kat Sellers, health partnershipco-ordinator at the National Housing Federation, runs through the many benefits of working alongside housing associations to combat homelessness and improve health outcomes for marginalised groups.

It only talks a short walk through any major city to see that homelessness is on the rise. According to government figures, homelessness has risen for the sixth year running; the number of people sleeping rough on any one night across England has more than doubled since 2010. 

Health issues are often more acute amongst those experiencing homelessness: A&E visits are around five times more frequent and the cost of treatment, once in hospital, is around four times higher. This puts a tremendous pressure on the local health service. 

Those leaving hospital need to have a safe place to stay and good-quality support in order to make a good recovery, maintain their health and prevent further admissions. However, a study by Homeless Link and St Mungo’s found that only around a third of those interviewed after leaving hospital had received the support they needed. There are many who have entered a cycle of hospital readmissions, resulting in additional cost to the NHS. 

This is where housing associations can help. As well as providing accommodation for those experiencing homelessness, they also deliver a wide range of services aimed at preventing homelessness and supporting those experiencing it to get back on their feet. Housing associations design and run a whole range of schemes, including hospital discharge services, resettlement services, drop-in centres, crisis beds, and support services for young people. They even provide schemes working with people within communities to help them manage issues that might put them at risk of homelessness in the future.

St Mungo’s Hospital Discharge Network 

St Mungo’s Hospital Discharge Network (HDN) is a scheme developed to improve the health outcomes of homeless people leaving hospital. 

Based within the charity’s Endsleigh Gardens hostel, which is part of Camden’s Hostel Pathway, the Camden HDN service is specially-designed supported accommodation, providing a safe environment for those who might be discharged to the street or unstable, inappropriate housing. People referred to the HDN receive clinical care, they are assisted to engage with health and social care services and are ultimately referred on to the most appropriate housing option. 

A team of health and homelessness professionals, including nurses, in-house GP sessions and support workers, collaborate to deliver a person-centred package of care and support. Referrals come from local hospitals, the Hostels Pathway or Camden’s Safer Streets Team (a rough sleeping outreach service). Clients are expected to stay for up to 12 weeks before moving on to alternative accommodation. 

An interim evaluation of the scheme has been positive, with clients experiencing fewer incidents of A&E attendance and emergency hospital admissions during their stay. They become more engaged with planned healthcare through outpatient appointments and more involved in community health and social care services. 

Delivered by St Mungo’s and funded by Camden Clinical Commissioning Group and the London Borough of Camden, the HDN exemplifies a collaborative approach in addressing the health needs of people who are homeless. The provision is the result of a multi-agency partnership, bringing together hostel support workers, clinical staff, housing options staff, primary healthcare service, GPs and the rough sleeping outreach team. 

Wide-reaching impact 

This is just one example of how housing associations are helping those experiencing homelessness and addressing the issues that are causing homelessness in the first place. Housing associations also provide a safe and secure home that helps people to live independently and to achieve their aspirations. These vital services help a diverse range of people in communities across the country, from those experiencing homelessness, women fleeing domestic abuse, or giving people with learning disabilities a chance to live independently. 

Joint working between housing and the health sector can reduce hospital admissions, speed up hospital discharge, and reduce persistent health inequalities. If you’re looking to partner with organisations with a social purpose that are already providing high-quality, affordable homes that reduce health inequalities and enhance people’s quality of life, not working with housing associations would be a missed opportunity.

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