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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Dying on the streets

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St Mungo’s reveals a dramatic increase in the proportion of people sleeping rough who have died with mental health support needs from 2010 to 2017

The case for ending rough sleeping

A new (19 June 2018) report from St Mungo’s reveals the shocking fact that one rough sleeper in London dies every fortnight and that a large proportion of these men and women have mental health needs.

Dying on the Streets  is based on a national survey of outreach teams working with rough sleepers. The survey results show that too many deaths are going ignored, and access to emergency accommodation and mental health services for people sleeping rough is getting harder. In London, 158 people who were sleeping rough died between 2010 and 2017.

Survey respondents said access to vital services for people sleeping rough has got harder during the last five years:

The survey received 71 responses from services operating in every English region. Here are the main findings:

  • 79% of respondents said rough sleeping had risen in their area in the last five years, compared to just 3% who said it had fallen and 13% who said levels had stayed the same.
  • Only 21% of respondents said their outreach service had seen a real terms increase in funding in the last five years. 31% reported a funding decrease, despite the rise in the number of people sleeping rough.
  • 63% of respondents were aware of someone who had died while sleeping rough in their local authority area in the last year. However, only 23% had any experience of a review being carried out in their area following the death of someone sleeping rough.
  • 64% of respondents said access to emergency accommodation for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago.
  • 70% of respondents said access to mental health services for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago, and 42% said the same for access to substance use services.
The chart below shows the proportion of people who died while sleeping rough in London who had a recorded mental health problem:

St Mungo’s make ten key recommendations in their report to address this tragic situation; calling on the Government to commit to the following in the forthcoming national rough sleeping strategy:

  1. Ensure multi-agency reviews always take place following the death of anyone sleeping rough, and numbers are recorded at the national level.
  2. Increase funding for StreetLink to raise public engagement and awareness of the service, improve the quality of alerts submitted and the ability of outreach services to respond to referrals.
  3. Create a specific funding pot for rapid relief from rough sleeping that promotes joint funding from health and local authority budgets for assertive outreach.
  4. Invest in specialist mental health services for homeless people in all areas with high levels of rough sleeping.
  5. Guarantee rapid access to drug and alcohol services for people sleeping rough, regardless of local connection or recourse to public funds.
  6. Ensure that assessments under the Care Act are available on the streets to all people sleeping rough.
  7. Guarantee emergency accommodation for individuals at immediate risk of rough sleeping, and expand access to No Second Night Out (NSNO) services.
  8. Fund innovative emergency accommodation options including pop-up assessment hubs, female-only emergency accommodation and emergency accommodation with immigration advice for migrants sleeping rough.
  9. Improve the accuracy and speed of decision making on immigration applications and prioritise applications from people who are sleeping rough.
  10. Require a refresh of all local homelessness strategies to plan and integrate these new rapid relief measures.
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