Rough sleepers lack ‘vital’ mental health support, charities warn

The government is in danger of missing its target to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012 unless more support is given to people with mental health problems, charities have warned.

London homelessness charity St Mungo’s is calling for evidence from councils, social care and mental health organisations on the extent of mental health problems among rough sleepers. It plans to publish a major report on homelessness and mental health including the findings in the autumn.

St Mungo’s chief executive Charles Fraser added: “We urgently need to find out more about how the causes, the true state of mental health among rough sleepers and ways of supporting them that enable them to rebuild their lives. No-one with a mental illness should be left to sleep rough on the streets.”

More than a third of rough sleepers have “severe and enduring” mental health problems but do not get the support they need, according to a report published last month by homelessness charity Crisis.

Researchers discovered that up to 85% of residents in one homeless shelter had a range of personality, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders that had not been formally diagnosed. Rough sleepers were also 50-100 times more likely to have a psychotic disorder than the general population.

Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The link between homelessness and mental health problems is well known. Yet despite all the evidence we still do not have the right services and support in place to address what is both such a common cause and consequence of homelessness.

“Without tackling the mental health problems of all homeless people, the government is never going to be able to keep its promise of ending rough sleeping by 2012.”

Although the number of rough sleepers has fallen drastically over the last 10 years around 3,000 people still sleep on the streets a year in London alone. In November last year housing minister Margaret Beckett announced at £200m programme to end rough sleeping once and for all by strengthening “assertive outreach” services and piloting individual budgets for homeless people.

More information

St Mungo’s homelessness and mental health inquiry

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