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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 Published at 04:16 GMT


Suicide 'higher among homeless'
image: [ Shelter say there is a distinct  link between homelessness and suicide ]
Shelter say there is a distinct link between homelessness and suicide

The experience of homelessness and bad housing increases the risk of suicide, according to a report by the homeless charity, Shelter.

It claims housing problems deepen the desperation felt by people while making it even harder for them to get help.

"This report shows people facing housing problems who are caught in a tragic Catch-22," said Chris Holmes, Shelter's director.

"Extremely vulnerable people are left homeless or in unsuitable accommodation which wreaks havoc with their emotional and physical well-being. To make matters worse, their housing situation acts as a barrier to providing help and support to those at risk of taking their own lives."

The report explains how homelessness and bad housing often cut people off from family, friends, GPs and social services, vital lifelines to those in crisis.

It shows how the lack of a stable and suitable home prevents people from dealing with other problems and how bureaucracy increases anxiety and stress.

The report is the first to look at evidence of suicide among people facing all types of housing problems.

Homeless single men between 26 and 44 years old were the largest group taking their own lives.

Shelter found that people living in unsuitable housing or accommodation without appropriate levels of care and support were particularly vulnerable to suicide.

The report also highlights suicide risk among young people after care, women fleeing domestic violence, regular hostel users and those sleeping rough.

The report is supported by English Churches Housing Group and includes a survey of organisations working with homeless people in three areas, a study of records in three coroner's courts, and in-depth interviews with homeless people and those working with them.

It shows that suicide is all too common an experience for homeless people and suggests the problem is larger than currently known.

The findings include

  • In one metropolitan city, almost 90% of organisations responding said they worked with homeless people who were suicidal.

  • One advice service for young people said that around 40% of the young people they helped in one year were suicidal or self-harming.

  • In one London coroner's court, 19 of the 48 deaths recorded as suicide were those of homeless or badly housed people.

    "It is never possible to isolate one specific reason why people take their own lives," said Caroline White of English Churches Housing Group.

    "However, Shelter's research provides an important indication of the links between suicide and housing problems and shows how providing better housing and support could help prevent a tragic loss of life. It highlights in the starkest light, the need not just for more homes, but more appropriate accommodation for those at risk."

    The report recommends that agencies working with homeless people provide better training for staff in order to improve practice and help assess risk.

    Shelter also believes that official mortality statistics need to be improved with a view to monitoring the links between housing and suicide.

    For people in Britain who are feeling depressed or suicidal the Samaritans can be contacted on 0345 90 90 90.

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