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Homelessness stigma stops people accessing healthcare even when housed

The long-term effects of living on the streets led to preventable deaths according to a report by Thames Reach, St Mungo’s and the Greater London Authority

Homeless person

The effects of homelessness can prevent former rough sleepers from seeking out healthcare even after they secure stable accommodation.

A new report from London homelessness charities Thames Reach and St Mungo’s as well as the Greater London Authority delved into deaths among people who had moved on from life on the streets with the help of local Tenant Sustainment Teams (TSTs).

Researchers discovered that good quality, stable accommodation does improve health and wellbeing but the rigours of rough sleeping can have a serious impact on mental health and self-worth that persist even after people are housed.

The stigma of homelessness also continues and that can prevent former rough sleepers from accessing healthcare. The report also found that social isolation remains an ongoing health issue and can be a major risk factor in early deaths, as can bereavement, violence, exploitation and benefits issues.

The small-scale research project’s findings will be shared among healthcare providers as well as TSTs to improve practices and has informed homelessness prevention groups to seek out these factors to prevent people falling into street homelessness in the first place.

The average age of death among people who have received assistance from TSTs is 52 years, which is higher than the average of death among homeless people of 47 years – though academics warned that the comparison should be treated with caution.

The most common cause of death recorded among the 55 people who died between April 2016 and August 2018 was cancer, followed by cardiovascular and gastro/liver diseases. In many of these cases, the conditions could have been treated and academics warned that the deaths could have been prevented.

Drug and alcohol misuse was also a key contributing factor in many of the deaths due to the chronic health conditions that it leads to as well as the stigma it creates that prevents people accessing support from non-specialist services.

People need a home for good but also to feel confident again, have friends, feel included in society

Howard Sinclair, chief executive at St Mungo’s, said: “This research shows that homelessness does have a long-term impact on someone’s health and wellbeing if the right support is not available. It is further evidence of the health inequalities faced by people who are homeless and of the need for more integrated healthcare for them.

“People need a home for good but also to feel confident again, have friends, feel included in society. This needs public services to work together to address the range of problems people may face, even after moving away from the street.”

Stuart Morgan, a client with the Tenancy Sustainment Team South, added: “Recovery from homelessness and poor health isn’t just about having a flat. It’s also about being supported to achieve personal growth and development such as being supported to increase your confidence and self-esteem. People need to improve their wellbeing in order to improve their health.”

The spotlight on homeless deaths has intensified in the last couple of years as the Office for National Statistics began an official count while the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Dying Homeless project crowdsourced their own count, which is now in the hands of the Museum of Homelessness.

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