A mental health crisis on our streets: St Mungo’s new report

28 November 2016

Areas with high numbers of rough sleepers do not have the specialist mental health services to cope with the need, according to a new report out today by St Mungo’s.

Using a Freedom of Information request, homelessness charity St Mungo’s asked health and local authority commissioners in 111 areas with ten or more rough sleepers on any one night to identify services providing mental health assessment, support and treatment for adults sleeping rough.

The new report, Stop the Scandal: the case for action on mental health and rough sleeping, shows that over two thirds (68%) of these areas fail to commission specialist mental health services.

This Stop the Scandal report follows a previous investigation which found that increasing numbers of people on the streets are also tackling mental health problems. Four in ten people sleeping rough need mental health support and those with a mental health problem are more likely to live on the streets for longer.

Rough sleeper numbers have doubled in England over the last six years, increasing 102% since 2010. On any one night in autumn 2015 3,569 people slept rough across the country.

Clients from St Mungo’s have today written to 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 as part of its Stop the Scandal campaign to discuss the issue with MPs and Peers. Speakers include Local Government Minister Marcus Jones MP, Public Health Minister, Nicola Blackwood MP, and Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP.

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

“It is a disgrace that in our developed country over 3,500 people sleep rough on any one night, and it’s likely that number will be even higher this autumn.

“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.

“Our research indicates that four in ten 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.”

The report, which includes findings from in-depth interviews with 21 people who have recent experience of rough sleeping, also reveals that people are coming to the streets with mental health problems and sleeping rough is further damaging people’s mental health. Thirteen interviewees said they had problems with their mental health before they slept rough and seven had a pre-existing mental health diagnosis. Eight of the 21 interviewees spoke about a time they had considered or attempted suicide.

Analysing the findings of the report, St Mungo’s client representative group Outside In has developed five principles to inform how services that work with people sleeping rough with mental health problems are commissioned and delivered; services must be

1. Accessible

2. Attentive

3. Understanding

4. Caring

5. Persistent

St Mungo’s recommends that services in every part of the country that come into contact with people sleeping rough with a mental health problem adopt these principles.

The report also recommends:

* The Prime Minister should lead a new strategy to end rough sleeping, including funding to help local areas deliver specialist homeless mental health services.

* The ministerial working group on homelessness should produce a detailed plan for improving mental health services for homeless people, including steps it will take to ensure specialist homeless mental health services are available in all areas with the highest levels of rough sleeping.

* Local councillors and commissioners should ensure that there is a clear service offer for people who struggle to access mainstream mental health services, including specific provision for people sleeping rough, and should ensure the mental health system is integrated with housing and support services.

* Health professionals, including GPs and mental health practitioners, should ensure they have a good working knowledge and understanding of homelessness and rough sleeping and should seek opportunities to work alongside people with lived experience of homelessness.

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