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by administrator @, Friday, December 04, 2009, 12:47

Rough sleeping should be tackled as a public health issue, with the Department of Health taking a lead on improving mental health services for vulnerable people, concludes a new report published by homelessness charity, St Mungo's.

Down and Out? is the final report of St Mungo's Call for Evidence into mental health and street homelessness. It brings together expert evidence from more than 90 national and local organisations from across health, social care, housing, young people's services and homelessness agencies, who contributed between April and June this year.

The report, including specially commissioned evidence from homeless people themselves, highlights how a lack of integrated health services can lead people with mental health problems into sleeping on the streets. It also shows how difficult it can be for a rough sleeper to have mental illness properly treated as part of their recovery.

Common problems were raised, including barriers to treatment; lack of leadership and vision; and lack of high support housing.

Charles Fraser, Chief Executive of St Mungo's, said: "We all instinctively know street homelessness can cause mental health problems, and mental health problems can cause street homelessness, yet to us it seems health services and policy makers do not make that connection.

"This Call for Evidence report shows there are many examples of good practice, and certainly many committed professionals. Overall, however, there is a systematic failure to adequately meet the mental health needs of homeless people, which undermines the universal principles of the NHS."

New figures on 300 recent rough sleepers now currently living within St Mungo's hostels - where problems can be recognised by experienced and specialist workers - reveal that 69% have a mental health need while 61% have both a mental health need and a substance use issue.

Fraser said: "The evidence clearly calls for central leadership and vision. The draft New Horizons strategy, taking forward our nation's mental health, barely mentions those with most complex or entrenched needs, such as rough sleepers, while the Government's existing rough sleeping strategy 'No-One Left Out', gave mental health no more than a passing mention.

"Just as Communities and Local Government has a lead minister for homelessness, we want the Department of Health to have a minister directly responsible for health and homelessness. This would ensure an integrated strategy from the centre.

"An important first step would be for New Horizons to explicitly recognise the needs of rough sleepers as a group which face extreme exclusion. It is time to ensure that nobody with a mental illness ever sleeps rough."

rough sleeping

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