Helping homeless people access mental health support

Evidence shows that there is a significant link between homelessness and mental health problems.  According to Homeless Link, 80 per cent of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues, with 45 per cent having been diagnosed with a mental health condition.  Research by Homes for Cathy member Evolve points to childhood trauma as a contributory factor – its ‘Breaking the cycle of trauma report’ found that 80 per cent of homeless customers surveyed had suffered at least one childhood trauma. 

Mental health and homelessness can be a vicious circle, with homelessness causing mental health problems, and mental health problems often being the reason people become homeless.  Sadly, homeless people can face considerable barriers in terms of accessing the mental health services that could support them.  Many homeless people live with multiple and complex needs; this, combined with other factors such as the lack of a fixed address and even loss of confidence and self-esteem, can make it impossible for them to use traditional support systems.  

Research by another Homes for Cathy member, the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, reveals that many homeless people ‘fall through the gaps in legislation and local services’, the result of a shortfall in locally commissioned services that actively target their needs. 

Work is being done by Homes for Cathy members to address the issue.  Charity Evolve, which provides supported housing to homeless people across London, is raising funds to provide free, in-house, non-location specific counselling services to its customers, making mental health support easily accessible for those who need it.  According to its research, 76% of people who have accessed its service report better mental health and are more able to cope with life.   

Debra Ives, Head of Operations at Evolve, says: “Counselling is one of the best tools for dealing with trauma but it must be available quickly to have an impact. Our counselling is free, on site and available irrelevant of where the customer moves to.”

Evolve is putting clients’ mental health top of the agenda with in-house counselling services

Meanwhile, Hightown Housing Association’s Open Door homelessness service has partnered with local mental health providers Hertfordshire Mind Network and Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), to deliver weekly support sessions direct to users of its shelter.

The scheme – announced to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019) – will give the shelter’s service users direct access to care for mental health issues without the need to register with a GP, travel to appointments, or provide a fixed address and phone number. 

Carla Watson, Open Door Scheme Manager, comments: “Imagine you lose your job, a loved one dies and you don’t have any savings. You are evicted from your home and lose most of your possessions. You’re now sleeping rough or staying in a homeless shelter. It feels like you are losing control of your life, your mental health is at an all-time low but you lack the confidence and self-esteem to seek help.  You give up and accept things may never get better.”

“I saw first-hand how often this happens to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. At Open Door we decided that if things were going to change, we needed to persuade mental health services to come to us. The services are bookable and available on a one-to-one basis, but without a waiting list or the need to have fixed contact details. 

“Another way people can fall through the cracks in services is if they don’t have a phone number, they can’t get an appointment. When the sessions are held at Open Door, we can encourage and refer residents on their behalf.”

Carla Watson, Hightown Housing Association’s Open Door Scheme Manager has implemented in-house mental health support sessions

Mental health charity Hertfordshire Mind Network is now offering mental health drop-in sessions at Open Door once a week to help service users with issues such as anxiety, loneliness and isolation, depression, anger and loss, while NHS provider HPFT will also run standalone mental health support sessions. 

Carla adds: “It’s still early days but the appetite from residents to improve their mental health is there – we have had good attendance every week.

“This exercise has taught us a valuable lesson. If things aren’t working, be proactive, look for a solution and work in partnership with other organisations. Ultimately, it’s the people who matter most and we’re committed to fighting for their right to have the same opportunities as others to access vital services and improve their life.”

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