‘Urgent action’ needed on mental health support for rough sleepers

New research reveals four out of five rough sleepers who died in London last year had mental health needs.

sleeping homeless man on a bench

A majority of outreach workers say access to mental health support for rough sleepers has got harder over the last five years – with homeless deaths on the rise and rarely reviewed.

Research released today (June 19) by St Mungo’s shows that four out of five (80%) rough sleepers who died in London 2017 had mental health needs, an increase from three in 10 (29%) in 2010.

Out of the hundreds of homeless deaths that have occurred in recent years, only eight have resulted in review.

Deaths of rough sleepers with mental health problems have risen sharply over the last seven years – prompting concern that specialist services are not reaching those who need them.

St Mungos is now calling for ‘urgent action’ from the prime minister to prevent further street deaths – and ensure reviews when they occur.

“This is a scandal and something the government needs to recognise and do more about… there should be more funds and support for these groups but instead they have been cut over the years and that correlates in these people stuck living on the streets … these deaths are preventable,” said Petra Salva, director of St Mungo’s rough sleeping services.

“The rise is because rough sleepers with mental health support needs end up sleeping rough and the help isn’t there and when it is there it is not quick enough… access to help and support is getting harder and so the prevalence of death… is increasing.”

On the back of the survey, St Mungo’s is calling on the government to invest more in specialist support, saying that with NHS services ‘severely overstretched’ this could sometimes be overlooked.

The survey showed 70% of outreach workers saying access to mental health support for people sleeping rough had got harder over the last five years – compared to just 5% who said it had become easier and 25% who said it stayed the same.

Only 32% of the areas where 10 or more people are sleeping rough on any one night were found to commission mental health services actively targeting rough sleepers.

The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalists revealed earlier this year that 340 homeless people died on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the last six years – a surge from 32 in 2013 to 78 in 2017.

A further 59 deaths have been recorded so far this year, already more than the whole of 2016.

In London 158 people died between 2010 and 2017 – an average of one death a fortnight.

The survey showed 63% of street outreach workers responding were aware of rough sleeper deaths someone in their local authority area last year – only 23% had experienced a review being carried out.

The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169% since 2010.

Last year in England more than 4,700 people slept rough on any one night, and a far larger number experienced rough sleeping during the course of the year.

Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s chief executive, said: “This is nothing short of a national scandal – these deaths are premature and entirely preventable.”

Sinclair says the government strategy to reduce the number of people sleeping rough presented a “vital opportunity” if directed from the top.

“We are calling on the prime minister to follow through on her commitment to end rough sleeping by making sure all parts of the public sector play their part – especially the health, justice and welfare systems,” he said.

As reported by 24housing, Homelessness charity Evolve Housing + Support yesterday (June 18) called for more counselling to be available for London’s homeless, with its own report highlighting the vital role it plays in helping rebuild lives beyond the street.

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