Council tells woman with mental illnesses she can ‘cope’ with sleeping rough

But medical experts told The Big Issue that rough sleeping can destroy hopes of recovery for those with mental health issues

This month Torbay Council in Devon concluded that a young woman in temporary housing suffered from depression and borderline personality disorder – before removing her claim to the accommodation because she would not be more affected by sleeping rough than an “ordinary” person would be.

Now mental health experts have blasted the decision because of the devastating impact homelessness can have on people experiencing mental illness.

The letter from the council, sent to someone who had been in temporary accommodation for four weeks, read: “You are resilient enough to manage a reasonable level of functionality and I am not satisfied that your ability to manage being homeless, even if that homelessness were to result in you having to sleep rough occasionally or in the longer term, would deteriorate to a level where the harm you are likely to experience would be outside of the range of vulnerability that an ordinary person would experience if they were in the same situation as you.”

Last year Tory-run Torbay Council received £279,785 from the government to fight homelessness in the area. Figures showed rough sleeping was on the up, with 169 people on the streets in 2016-17.

When The Big Issue went to Torbay Council for answers, we received a statement in which a spokesperson said the “full content” of the letter had not been shared.

A council spokesperson said: “What has not been shown is an explanation of who would be considered in priority need and why this person is not. The letter also includes a clear explanation on their right to request a review of this decision, and we encourage the person concerned to exercise this right if they feel the decision has been made incorrectly.”

The criteria applied by the council assessor, in line with homelessness legislation, include pregnant women, a person with dependents, a person with a disability – and a person suffering from mental illness.

The letter read that the assessor had considered that the recipient may fall into this category, but concluded that “the harm [she] would suffer … when homeless would be more than likely to be suffered by an ordinary person” too, meaning she would not be prioritised for housing.

It also confirmed that a doctor had diagnosed the young woman with depression, borderline personality disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder.

The council added: “When anyone comes to us stating they are homeless we try to help them as much as we can. There are parameters set by the government with regard to the current homelessness legislation. These parameters include five criteria that we have to consider as part of a homelessness decision. The application of the law and the legal tests that are applied are complex and we do our best to explain our decision clearly and in a way that people can understand what it means for them.”

Nearly 45 per cent of homeless people have a mental illness, according to Homeless Link figures.

The consequences of homelessness for someone with a mental illness can be devastating, says charity Crisis, which estimated that suicide rates among homeless people are nine times higher than the rest of the population.

The evidence is very clear that homelessness can increase a person’s risk of developing a mental health problem,

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, associate director of research and development at the Mental Health Foundation, told The Big Issue: “We know homelessness impacts on people’s ability to secure stable housing, find and maintain a job, stay physically healthy and maintain relationships, which are all very important factors for our mental health.

“The evidence is very clear that homelessness can increase a person’s risk of developing a mental health problem. In turn, for people already experiencing mental health problems, being homeless can make it even harder to recover.”

The letter was shared online by charity Humanity Torbay, which is dealing with the person who received it. CEO Ellie Waugh claimed they know of at least five others who have received similar correspondence.

Paul Spencer, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, told VICE this week: “Too often it is the most vulnerable people who slip through the net, and the consequences can be catastrophic. Healthcare and local services need to be properly resourced and integrated so people get the right support for their mental health in a coordinated and understanding way, and can start rebuilding their lives – this includes having somewhere to live.”

The charity is working to find permanent housing for the young woman and her dog.

Image: Twitter/@nikpet1