Physical or mental health problems can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness. People experiencing homelessness are more likely than most to have an issue with their health. The average age of death for a homeless man is 47, and for a woman just 43, and poor health is at the root of this problem.
That’s why improving health is such an important part of St Mungo’s approach to tackling homelessness.
What we do
We have numerous approaches when it comes to improving the health of people experiencing homelessness. We provide health information, create health improvement networks, train staff, offer toolkits and promote a wide range of health initiatives for our staff and clients.
No two clients we work with are ever the same, so we need to ensure the projects and services we offer cater to the wide and varying needs of the people we work with.
Our work in action
Alongside initiatives like our health fairs or conferences, we run dedicated health services. One example is our Homeless Health Coordination Project, commissioned by Westminster Council.
Launched in June 2015, the project supports over 400 clients, helping them to access health services like check-ups or sessions to help them stop smoking.
By helping to publicise and run health services, and through training staff and volunteers, we’ve achieved some fantastic results.
A focus on mental health
At St Mungo's, we take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other.
We focus on enabling our clients to access existing mental health services as well as promoting a model of psychotherapy that is effective for people experiencing homelessness. This may be in partnership with the NHS or through our own psychotherapy service, LifeWorks. We also operate services such as Building Bridges to Wellbeing, a peer support group which encourages clients to use their skills to help others with their resilience, confidence and mental health.
How we’ve helped
Our health initiatives have really made a difference to people’s lives. We have:
- Increased client awareness of health issues and the services they can use
- Increased the number of clients receiving appropriate treatment
- Helped staff and volunteers understand how they can best help their clients access the care they need.
Sadly, many homeless people can face chronic health problems, some of which may finally lead to palliative services or hospitals. Our Palliative Care service was set up in 2008 in partnership with Marie Curie Cancer Care, and with original funding from the Department of Health.
We support clients to make informed choices about their care, as well as supporting staff and other clients affected by the psychological and emotional aspects of approaching the end of life. We also train staff to help them deal with end of life issues including bereavement support and identifying when a client may be dying.
In 2013, with Marie Curie Cancer Care, we jointly published the Homelessness And End Of Life Care Resource Pack for staff working with people who are homeless.
Health matters – our policy and awareness raising
We’ve found that Homeless Health projects are a cost effective and accessible way to improve the health and wellbeing of clients we work with. Our work has led to tangible changes in lifestyles. And by encouraging people to get regular check-ups, we’ve seen health problems sorted earlier – often avoiding conditions worsening and needing more costly care.
Our Stop the Scandal campaign has been calling for investment in specialist homelessness mental health services, and the right support upon discharge so people don’t end up sleeping rough after leaving mental health hospitals.
On a local level, we have been working with Health and Wellbeing Boards to sign our Charter for Homeless Health, so that the physical and mental health needs of homeless people are adequately addressed in Joint Strategic Needs Assessments.