Stigma stops former rough sleepers accessing healthcare

Report says issues around social exclusion are leading to early deaths.

Homeless person sleeping in a pedestrian tunnel

A new report says stigmas around homelessness and social exclusion stop rough sleepers accessing appropriate healthcare – leading to early deaths.

The research – commissioned by homeless charities Thames Reach and St Mungo’s and the Greater London Authority – has looked into deaths among those who had moved on from rough sleeping, supported by Tenant Sustainment Teams (TST).

Howard Sinclair, chief executive at St Mungo’s, said the research represented further evidence of the health inequalities faced by the homeless and of the need for more integrated healthcare for them.

He said: “People need a home for good but also to feel confident again, have friends, feel included in society.

“This needs public services to work together to address the range of problems people may face, even after moving away from the street.”

Researchers worked directly with people receiving TST support and their support workers, with their work looking across all people who presented with low to moderate health needs as people with complex health needs are a minority in the TST cohort.

The research not only outlines the long-term health effects of rough sleeping, but also how support workers can best help these needs.

Evident in the findings is the negative impact of rough sleeping on mental and physical health and self-worth, with case studies showing the biggest risk factors to people’s health as social isolation, bereavement, violence, exploitation, and issues with benefits.

Homelessness prevention teams have been working to identify these factors in their clients in the hope of averting street homelessness occurring in the first place.

Findings will be shared with healthcare providers and Tenancy Sustainment Teams in order to improve practices.

Bill Tidnam, chief executive at Thames Reach, said the findings showed that even after people are housed, the damaging impact of street homelessness is still with them.

He said: “They are likely to have a higher level of chronic illness, treatment is likely to be less effective, and they are likely to die earlier.

“It’s important that this report is not just for homelessness agencies, but that it is the start of a conversation with clinicians that aims to improve take-up of treatment.”

Jules Pipe, GLA deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills, stressed the research as reiterating the “terrible toll” rough sleeping can take on the most vulnerable in society.

He said: “[The report] should galvanise us to do all we can to tackle the national homelessness crisis.

“The Mayor will continue to work tirelessly, alongside local authorities and our charity partners, to help homeless Londoners.

“However, we will never truly end homelessness until ministers wake up to the issue and put a proper plan of action in place, rather than the empty promises of the last decade,” he said.

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