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Homelessness and Health

Published on Thursday, 20th September 2018

How can the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 help to improve the outcomes for people experiencing homelessness or the threat of homelessness?

Homelessness can be a complex issue that can have a major affect on people’s health who are experiencing issues around homelessness or the threat of homelessness.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which became law in April 2018, brings about a Duty to Refer for statutory partners effective from October 2018 which includes emergency departments, urgent treatment centres, hospitals in their function of providing inpatient care as well as prisons, youth offending teams, probation, social services and Jobcentre Plus.

The Homelessness Reduction Act widens access to assistance from local authorities to all households at risk of homelessness and requires earlier action to prevent homelessness.  This has presented a real opportunity to reduce homelessness particularly amongst populations who have previously been unable to access services.

However, in order to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities, we all need to work together and take a pro active role in preventing, reducing and ending homelessness which will mean everyone taking a more holistic approach when dealing with people.

All local authorities are striving towards working with people to prevent homelessness, rather than waiting until they are in a crisis situation.  This not only allows everyone to deal with the person in a managed way, but also cuts down on the stress and upset that the person goes through when they are in a crisis situation.

Case Study 1

Fred has been admitted to hospital after being found in the local park unconscious and experiencing drug and alcohol abuse.

When Fred became coherent, the ward nurse completed their assessment and determined that Fred was homeless and rough sleeping.

The ward nurse contacted the Local Authority and advised that Fred would be in hospital for 3 weeks whilst he went through a detox programme and that he would need accommodation upon his discharge from hospital.

Because the ward nurse instigated the 'Duty to Refer' straight away, the Local Authority were able to find some supported housing for Fred upon his discharge with a provider dealing with drug and alcohol issues.

If Fred engages with the supported housing provider for a period of time, he can go on the Council’s housing list and be considered for a tenancy as part of the move on procedures.

 

As you can see from the example given above, because Fred was dealt with in a managed way with the hospital and the Local Authority working together with the supported housing provider, Fred was accommodated straight away from the hospital and given the help that he needed to overcome his health issues.

Homelessness can have particularly adverse consequences on children and studies have shown that it can affect their life chances later on in life. Homeless children are more likely to experience stress and anxiety resulting in depression and behavioural issues as well as experience absenteeism from school due to the unsettled lifestyle.

 

Case study 2

Sally is a single parent with three children aged 7 (Michael), 5 (Ruth) and 2 (Corey).  Sally has had a chaotic housing history through several private rented tenancies which has resulted in Michael having to attend a variety of schools during his short life which has resulted in him having difficulties forming friendships and he has become very withdrawn.

Sally has now been served with a S21 notice from her landlord requiring her to vacate the house.  Sally has approached the Local Authority Housing Options Service and they have contacted the landlord to ascertain why the notice has been served.  The landlord has confirmed that they wish to sell the property and that there are no rent arrears involved, but they need vacant possession to be able to sell.

The Housing Options Adviser managed to negotiate with the landlord that Sally could stay within the property whilst suitable alternative accommodation could be found.  Sally is threatened with homelessness and is on the waiting list for a property near to Michael’s present school.

Within 3 months, a suitable property was allocated to Sally enabling her and the children to have a more settled life and Michael is starting to settle well into his school and has made new friends.

 

Because the Housing Options Adviser was able to do some negotiation work with the landlord agreeing that Sally would show round potential viewers, it negated the need for temporary accommodation to be provided which in turn meant that there was no further disruption to the children’s lives apart from moving to their new Local Authority home.

There is definitely an intrinsic link between homelessness and health and the impact that it can have on people’s lives.  By working together towards a common aim of trying to prevent homelessness instead of waiting until it hits crisis point, it has the double benefit of not only alleviating stress and anxiety for the person experiencing it, but it could also help to cut down the costs to the public purse by encouraging early intervention.