Mental health and sleeping rough

The government will fail to meet its target to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012 if it does not address mental health issues, charities have warned.

London’s largest rough sleeper charity, St Mungo’s, said 35 per cent of the homeless people it supports have severe and enduring mental illnesses, and a survey of its hostels found that 85 per cent of residents were in poor mental health.

Residents of hostels reported a range of personality, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders. None of them had been formally diagnosed with mental health problems.

Research from homelessness charity Crisis shows rough sleepers are between 50 and 100 times more likely to have a psychotic disorder than the general population.

Homeless women, refugees and asylum seekers and those from black and ethnic minority communities, as well as those who also misuse drugs or alcohol are particularly affected.

St Mungo’s has begun a ten-week national call for evidence to bring together best practice on mental health and homelessness. It plans to publish its findings in the autumn.

Chief executive Charles Fraser said: “Despite the very welcome reduction in the numbers of rough sleepers over the last decade, the proportion with a mental illness has remained static at around a third. These are often the individuals with the most intractable problems, who need the most determined help, and it is reprehensible they are not getting it.”

‘We urgently need to find out more about how the causes, the true state of mental health among rough sleepers and ways of supporting them that enable them to rebuild their lives.’