THE BLOG

A Mental Health Crisis On Our Streets

01/12/2016 11:07

At St Mungo's we work to end homelessness and help people rebuild their lives. Across London and the south of England, we provide outreach support and accommodation where people can find the help they need to begin to build their futures in a positive way. We know that there is life after rough sleeping. We see every day that people can - and do - recover and move on from homelessness.

However the scale of the challenge is great. You and I have heard the statistics and can see with our own eyes the rise of rough sleeping in the UK. More than three and a half thousand people slept rough in England on a typical night last autumn. St Mungo's research shows that four in 10 have a mental health problem, sleeping rough with their mental health getting worse.

Rough sleeping in England has risen by 102% since 2010, and we are seeing a new mental health crisis on our streets.

This week, St Mungo's published a new research report, Stop the Scandal: the case for action on mental health and rough sleeping, the latest part of our investigation into rough sleeping and mental health.

Mental health services are overstretched and find it difficult to work with people who are homeless. These are people whose lives are complicated, very often people who use drugs or drink or find it almost impossible to keep appointments while they are sleeping on the street.

But the longer people are sleeping rough, the worse the damage to their mental health. The worse people's mental health, the more challenging it becomes for St Mungo's to work with them, and to find them safe, decent accommodation. Leaving people to sleep rough is not an option.

When mental health services acknowledge homelessness, they can work positively with people. Specialist homelessness mental health services have both the focus and the expertise to assess, support and treat people who are sleeping rough, and connect them with mainstream services.
Worryingly, our new report finds that the majority of areas with high levels of rough sleeping are failing to commission these specialist services.

As part of our research, we made Freedom of Information requests to local areas with high levels of rough sleeping - 10 or more people sleeping rough on a typical night last autumn - about the mental health services they commission that specifically target people sleeping rough.

Two thirds of those local areas commission no specialist services at all. More than 1,500 people slept rough in those areas on a typical night last autumn. Local areas must start to rise to the challenge by providing targeted mental health support for people sleeping rough.

To find solutions, we must listen to people who have experience sleeping rough with a mental health problem. As part of our new report, twenty one of our clients shared their experience and told us how mental health services can work better for people sleeping rough in this country.

This week, members of St Mungo's client involvement group Outside In have written to the Health Secretary to request a meeting to discuss mental health and rough sleeping directly.

Five things matter most to people who have been through it themselves. Service must be accessible for people sleeping rough and they must be persistent when even progress is slow. They must listen and understand. And most of all, they must have the time and space to care about people sleeping rough.

They are simple things, but they will take ambition and investment to achieve. We are looking to national government for leadership. A new, national strategy to end rough sleeping, and dedicated funding for better mental health services for people sleeping rough.

These are opportunities the government can't afford to miss. Homelessness is a national crisis and a national shame. And it is not inevitable.

You can join our Stop the Scandal campaign.

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