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19.04.12

Mental health a key factor in homelessness

The NHS must improve its support for homeless people with mental health problems, a joint report by the NHS Confederation Mental Health Network and homelessness charity St Mungo’s suggests.

Rough sleeper numbers have risen by 23% nationally since 2010, the report states, with mental ill-health both a major contributing factor and a possible consequence of homelessness.

Up to 70% of people who use homelessness services have a mental health problem, and the partnership has suggested that more flexible models of care are needed to tackle the range of needs these patients present.

Other recommendations include creating direct outreach services to where homeless people are likely to be, to work with other specialist support and improve continuity of contact with homeless people, for example by having a named contact in charge of homelessness health.

Mental Health Network director Steve Shrubb said: “Homeless people have some of the most complex physical and mental health problems that many professionals will ever encounter.

“For a range of NHS-funded services, we are not treating homeless patients for mental health who are intoxicated. People are not accepted because they use drink or drugs. Clearly they do need to be referred for therapy, so it’s not good enough to say, ‘Go away and clean yourself up.’ 

“This report provides the questions NHS leaders need to be asking themselves to make sure homeless people get the priority they need.”

Peter Cockersell, St Mungo’s director of health and recovery, said: “While the links between homelessness and poor mental health are well established, it remains very difficult, however, for homeless people with substance use and mental problems to get mental health treatment.

“The focus must be about prevention and recovery – helping people rebuild their lives through the right support at the right time in the right place. Nobody with a mental health condition should end up sleeping rough. We would strongly urge people to read the report and act on it.”

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