A report into homelessness by the Welsh Government and other agencies indicates that poor health is a cause as well as a result of homelessness in Wales – with insufficient access to healthcare being a significant factor.
The report, conducted by housing charity Cymorth Cymru, reports that a third of people said health problems were a primary or secondary cause of their homelessness – when drug or alcohol problems were included as a health issue.
But nearly a quarter who were admitted to hospital said they were discharged to the streets or unsuitable accommodation, which doubled their chance of re-admission. Plus, over two-thirds of those surveyed had not had a hepatitis B or flu vaccination, and half the female respondents did not have breast examinations or a cervical smear on a regular basis.
Over 30% of respondents said they needed more help and support for their health problems
“This report highlights how health problems can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness,” said Cymorth Cymru director Katie Dalton. “Over 30% of respondents said they needed more help and support for their health problems, and many faced barriers to health care, including lengthy waiting lists and being unable to get appointments.”
Shelter Cymru were one of the organisations that helped to compile the report and develop the recommendations.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
“Health and homelessness are closely tied up with each other,” said Jennie Bibbings, the Campaigns Manager at Shelter Cymru. “People sleeping rough and people who are in insecure or temporary accommodation experience worse physical and mental health than the general population, but despite this, homeless people often have less access to healthcare.
“There are lots of practical difficulties including not having a regular postal address, not being able to afford telephone calls, in some cases literacy issues, and sometimes, sadly, judgemental attitudes from healthcare staff, which can be very damaging to people’s confidence and put them off getting the care they need.”
Health and housing needs
The report includes a number of recommendations that health boards, local authorities and homelessness charities could implement in order to provide better support.
“There are some key themes throughout,” said Dalton. “We would like health, housing and homelessness services to make every contact count, using these opportunities to identify people’s health and housing needs and help them to access appropriate support.
We would like health, housing and homelessness services to make every contact count
“Another important theme is collaboration between services to ensure that people’s health and housing needs are better met.”
A government spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with Public Health Wales, health boards, local authorities and homelessness organisations, to ensure appropriate services are planned and delivered to meet the health needs of homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.”