Dan Parton (24/4/12)wonders why it's taken so long for action on homeless people's mental health services:
Sometimes I read mental health-related reports and think that the findings and recommendations are fairly obvious. But then I think, 'if they're so obvious, why haven't the recommendations been implemented before?' That is usually a much harder question to answer.
One such report is 'Making It Matter: Improving the Health of Young Homeless People' by homelessness charity Depaul UK and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca. It found that 40% of young homeless people are likely to experience depression compared to 21% of their non-homeless peers. In addition, 27% of homeless young people have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, compared with only 7% of their non-homeless counterparts.
That mental health issues are more prevalent among young homeless people than their peers who have permanent housing is not surprising. Leaving aside any other problems they may have, life on the streets is generally more stressful and chaotic than when you have a roof over your head.
Depaul UK's report made several recommendations, including making services for young homeless people more easily accessible in places such as drop-in centres and ensuring that mental health services should not exclude people who take drugs or alcohol and vice versa. These seem fairly obvious. Homeless people, by their nature, can be hard-to-reach for mental health services, so having them in places where they are likely to go, makes sense. Ditto for mental health services helping people with drink or drug problems.
Hearteningly, care services minister Paul Burstow's comments after publication of the report - "The difference in health outcomes between the young homeless and the rest of the population is unacceptable and we must do something about it" - seem to indicate that the Government agrees. He also said the report will influence the policy agenda, so there's more hope of action.
The key to all of this sits with the Ministerial Working Group on homelessness - of which Burstow is a part. It published its first report last July and is developing a second, which will focus on what steps can be taken to prevent homelessness and integrate services for homeless people. While that sounds promising, any optimism is tempered by the knowledge that there is a world of difference between well-intentioned comment and reports like this,and action on the ground, especially in these financially austere times.
However, with the number of homeless people of all ages jumping by 14% in just a year, according to figures from the Department fo rCommunities and Local Government, published in March, it is a problem that is only going to get worse. Can the Government afford not to do anything? The answer, surely, is obvious.