A new project to improve mental health care for vulnerable older female rough sleepers is to be piloted across London.

The project is a partnership between the Joint Homelessness Team in Westminster, part of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, and London’s Sub Regional Housing Partnerships.

The yearlong pilot will provide a specialist mental health outreach worker to work with women who have lived on the streets for several years.

A mental health profile of homelessness
For the pilot Dagnija O’Connell will bring together different community groups such as A&E, police, transport services and outreach teams to build a history and profile of homeless women in London.

The Community Mental Health Nurse explained: " Each person referred to the Joint Homelessness Team has left an area where they may or may not have been known and where they may or may not have been getting the help that they needed or wanted.

"The initiative borrows from many models, but specifically assertive outreach and recovery models. The cornerstone of the initiative as is an understanding that people might not want what your service has to offer, yet somehow you need to try to build a relationship."

Underestimated number of female rough sleepers
Combined Homeless and Information Network (CHAIN) figures show women make up around 11% of rough sleepers, however research from homelessness services show this is likely to be an underestimate due to their ‘hidden’ status in response to the heightened dangers for females sleeping on the streets, such as sexual assault and violence.

This means they are also significantly less likely to access the help and support they need. Fleeing domestic violence, a major cause of homelessness for women, is also associated with high rates of vulnerability to mental and physical disorders.

Transient vulnerable females
Although O'Connell will be based within Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust’s (CNWL) pioneering Joint Homelessness Team, she will provide a link across the city’s borough boundaries due to pooled funding provided via London’s Sub Regional Housing Partnerships.

A coordinated approach is thought to be essential for this highly transient group, as local authority funding is traditionally dependant on ‘local connection’ criteria.

The project will also develop a ‘toolkit’ detailing lessons learnt and recommendations from the project to assist local authorities and health services, with the aim of ensuring that transient vulnerable female rough sleepers no longer ‘slip through the net’ of dedicated support services in future.