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People with poor mental health are at greater risk of experiencing the three main factors which can lead to homelessness: poverty, isolation and vulnerability.

In turn, being homeless can cause a decline in mental health and lead to anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance misuse.

This is why ²gether is working in partnership with other organisations to improve the lives of homeless people in Gloucester.  The life expectancy of a street homeless person is just 42 years, compared with 74 for men and 79 for women in the general population. Andy Telford, ²gether’s Community Services Manager for the West Locality & Vocational Services, said: “The effect of being homeless on mental health and wellbeing is a big issue. We have homeless people in the community who are not engaged with our services, and some of them are clearly mentally unwell.  We’re trying to help them have access to what they need to support their mental health and overall wellbeing.”

At the George Whitefield Centre run by Gloucester City Mission, agencies including ²gether, Gloucestershire Care Services (GCS) NHS Trust, Change Grow Live and P3 are working together to provide ‘hub style’ care for rough sleepers.  Dave Kinghorn manages the centre in Great Western Road where homeless people can register and access GP clinics four days per week. Nurses are there five days a week to wash wounds and change bandages and clients can have a shower, a change of clothes, a hot meal and a clean sleeping bag.  A Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) visits weekly, as well as a podiatrist once a fortnight.

Gayle Clay, Team Manager with Gloucestershire Care Service NHS Trust’s Homeless Healthcare Team, has 22 years’ service with the NHS. She said: “We’re seeing a very high level of anxiety here, much higher than in general practice.

“This also impacts on nursing time. There’s a lot of listening ear – 98% of people here have experienced early years abuse. They have feelings of hopelessness and rock bottom self-esteem. Things we take for granted like a family network, they don’t have.”

Joanne, 49, who visits the centre, has a dependent personality disorder and is homeless.

She said: “I find coming here helpful because I need support but I can’t stay here forever, I need supported lodgings.  I was working at the job centre for 31 years but I had a breakdown.”

Rob Phillips, Joanne’s CPN, said: “Joanne had a husband, two kids, a job, money, a house and a car. She was offered redundancy and she took it but she lost her routine. She was a functional person then her dad died of cancer. Her marriage broke down. She didn’t have a mental health problem until the age of 46.

“Homelessness impacts on someone’s mental health and their physical health is affected, which then impacts on their mental health”, added Rob.

“Having no base and nowhere to go during the day is not going to be good for anyone’s mental health”.

Some of the other support provided at the centre involves building skills including:

  • Cookery and healthy eating courses
  • Help with maintaining accommodation
  • Access to drug and alcohol workers
  • Assessments
  • A recovery group
  • Narcotics Anonymous runs once a week on a Saturday

Andy added: “If someone has a complex need they may not engage.  It’s about creating opportunities and signposting people to services which meet those needs.  We can’t eradicate homelessness but we can make the engagement process much slicker.”