As widely reported in national news this week, rates of homelessness within the UK are currently a serious concern. Even more so at a time when, although many of us are enjoying the festive season, many face Christmas sleeping rough on our streets.
A report, carried out by homeless charity Crisis, has revealed a significantly lower life expectancy in homeless people than the national average. The research, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, was carried out between 2001 and 2009, and used a number of datasets to identify the death certificates and thus ages and causes of death of homeless people. The full report will be released in 2012.
It was found that on average, homeless men live to the age of 47, and homeless women only live to the age of 43, in comparison to the general population who live to an average age of 77. Although disease is the biggest cause of death amongst the general population, external factors are more likely to be the cause of death amongst homeless people.
One third of these early deaths have been attributed to drug and alcohol abuse, and statistics show that four out of five homeless people start using at least one new drug after becoming homeless. Furthermore, homeless people are nine times more likely to commit suicide. They are also more likely to die from traffic accidents, infections and falls.
The report states that homelessness “has significant impacts on people’s health and well being. Ultimately, homelessness kills”.
The report finds that homeless people often turn to drugs and alcohol once they are homeless as a way of coping with the harsh realities of homeless life, thus exacerbating rates of drug and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, those who do abuse drugs and alcohol often have underlying mental health issues. The problem is worsened further as it is more difficult for homeless people to access help for drug and alcohol abuse.
Homeless people also have a much higher rates of mental health problems, with common mental health issues twice as likely to effect the homeless, and psychosis 4 – 15 times more prevalent amongst the homeless population. Like drugs and alcohol, mental health is often a cause and a consequence of homelessness.
The report calls for the government to do more to prevent these premature deaths amongst homeless people. More must be done to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place, particularly in such bleak economic times. Gaps in the provision of health services need to be closed, and specialist services for homeless people must also be improved and expanded.
Concerning the provision of services for homeless people, the report reveals that too many homeless people are being turned away when asking their local authorities for help. Local authorities are failing to meet basic housing needs which can cause homelessness, which in turn can cause serious health issues to develop.
The report suggests that the law should be changed so single homeless people have a right to shelter and can’t be turned away from their local authorities to sleep rough. Currently, the majority of single homeless people are not considered a priority when it comes to housing, and are often turned away without being provided with any meaningful advice.
The report states, “Crisis believes that the law must be changed so that all single homeless people have the right to receive written advice, real assistance and emergency accommodation when they need it”.
To help save the lives of homeless people by taking part in the Crisis at Christmas appeal, making a donation, campaigning, fundraising or volunteering visit the Crisis website.