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EDITIONS
Mentally ill face eviction
Homelessness exacerbates mental health problems
A third of evictions by local authorities are of vulnerable mentally ill people, according to a report by homeless charity Crisis.

Mental Health
It says that, despite initiatives in some parts of the country that encourage better working between health, social services and housing, many mentally ill people are continuing to fall through the housing gap.

In its Pressure Points report it says housing is vital for mental well-being and, once made homeless, many mentally ill people may remain withthout permanent housing for several years.

Homelessness may also exacerbate their mental health problems and make it more difficult for them to access care.

Only a third of people sleeping rough are registered with a GP, for example.

Flexible approach

Publication of the report marks the start of an awareness campaign to promote long-term solutions for the homeless mentally ill.

It points out examples of good practice which it believes could be taken up by more local authorities, including floating housing support teams.

These are teams overseen by health, housing, social services, criminal justice and voluntary sector managers.

They are able to offer a flexible approach to housing and other needs, providing support, counselling and other services.

Crisis says many community mental health teams (CMHTs) have "a poor track record in identifying housing problems as an issue of first priority".

It wants CMHTs and other agencies to be more assertive and intervene at an earlier stage before a person reaches crisis point and becomes homeless.

Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Crisis, said: "The mentally ill are ending up on our streets when there is no need for them to be there in the first place.

"Mental health problems often start before homelessness and can directly cause a loss of accommodation, but they can also be the reason people remain homeless for many years as simply re-housing these people is not always the answer.

"There are one or two examples of effective flexible approaches, but housing and mental health professionals throughout the UK must work together to end this vicious circle."

'End of the line'

The Local Government Association issued a consultation document on allocation and homelessness a month ago and is compiling the replies.

A spokeswoman said evictions were the main thrust, particularly those of vulnerable people.

She said eviction for things like non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour was "the end of the line" and the process, culminating in court action, usually took a year and followed consultation with different agencies.

The consultation paper suggests looking at the issue of evictions of vulnerable people again and asking for more government support to address the problems.

The spokeswoman said it was not a housing problem, but a result of a breakdown in mental health care.

One possible solution was to allow agencies to be more flexible, for example, enabling them to pool budgets to come up with imaginative solutions to support the mentally ill.

Early action

A spokeswoman for the National Housing Federation (NHF), the umbrella body representing housing associations, said the support needs of mentally ill people were often not identified at an early stage when action could be taken to avoid eviction.

Many mentally ill people are not helped until they are at crisis point
The Crisis report says it is a myth that people have been turned out of long-stay hospitals onto the streets.

Homelessness is more likely to affect people who have never been in long-term hospital care.

The NHF agreed good practice was patchy and said housing officers were under pressure to ensure rents were collected on time and often did not have the confidence to bring in other agencies that could provide support.

Also, some mentally ill people did not accept they needed help, meaning social services could not assess them unless they were considered severely ill.

The spokeswoman said: "The problem is that money for mental health has been targeted at acute services and not at people who are not severely ill because of media scares.

"The government needs to invest in preventive measures."

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