Hike in number of rough sleepers with mental health issues

Increasing numbers of people with mental health problems are sleeping rough due to cuts to mental health services, homelessness outreach workers have warned. (Picture: Rex, model released)

Increasing numbers of people with mental health problems are sleeping rough due to cuts to mental health services, homelessness outreach workers have warned.

Fifty-seven per cent of outreach workers said the number of rough sleepers with mental health problems in their areas had increased over the past five years, with many attributing this to mental health cuts, found a survey by St Mungo’s.

The findings come in a new report from the charity, Battered, Broken, Bereft – Why People Still End Up Rough Sleeping.

A separate survey of 1,500 St Mungo’s clients identified that increasing numbers of new residents in emergency shelters have mental health problems. Outreach workers reported that mental health services were raising thresholds for support, denying care to all but the most needy. St Mungo’s said that one mental health trust it worked with was cutting 100 in-patient beds and reducing staff numbers in community teams at the same time as the area’s local authority was closing four mental health day centres.

It said people with dual diagnosis were particularly at risk because they were being denied mental health support on grounds of their drug or alcohol problems.

Senior social worker Barney Wells, who is an approved mental health practitioner and a College of Social Work media spokesperson, agreed that capacity had been reduced in mental health services.

He said that in the current climate mental health trusts were stressing the local connection principle more explicitly, under which access to services is based on roots in a particular area, which tends to exclude many homeless people from assessment.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Andrew McCulloch said the findings were “appalling”.

“More focus should be paid to early-intervention measures, in order to help people live with and manage their illnesses at an early stage, and minimise the chances of their conditions worsening to the point where their housing situation is at risk,” he added. He also called for more training for housing staff in supporting people with mental health problems.

The St Mungo’s also report found street homelessness was increasing overall, with three in five staff reporting increases in the past year, and said this was shunting costs to other parts of the system, particularly health services.

Almost three-quarters (71%) of outreach workers surveyed did not believe that there was enough emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in their area.

“As services close, or thresholds for accessing support are raised, some vulnerable people are being left with nowhere to turn with devastating effect,” said St Mungo’s chief executive Charles Fraser.

The report also found that:

● Relationship breakdown is the largest single trigger of rough sleeping cited by outreach workers, leading to 42% of male rough sleeping.

● Among women, 35% slept rough after leaving home to escape domestic violence.

The report called for more investment in community mental health teams so they could intervene earlier to prevent people from becoming homeless, and for people with dual diagnosis to have both their problems addressed simultaneously.

It also called for councils to invest in housing advice services to identify people at risk of sleeping rough and more refuges for domestic violence survivors, along with greater investment in emergency accommodation.

“We know rough sleeping can be prevented if the right support is provided when people need it,” said Fraser.

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