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80% of People Who Died Sleeping Rough in London Had Mental Health Needs

New research has shown that 4 in every 5 people who died while sleeping rough in London last year had mental health issues.

The report was published on Tuesday by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, which described the findings as a “national scandal.”

It’s a sharp increase from 29% in 2010, prompting the charity to urgently write to British Prime Minister Theresa May calling for immediate action.

Take Action: End Preventable Deaths of over 5 Million Women, Children and Adolescents Every Year

Since 2010, there has been a 169% increase in the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England, and last year at least 4,751 people slept rough in England — the highest number since records began.

In London, at least 158 rough sleepers died in the same timeframe, according to St Mungo’s — an average of a death every two weeks. For the rest of Britain, the number of deaths have reportedly doubled in the last five years, although experts say the real figure is likely to be far higher.

Read More: The Number of British Homeless People Who've Died Has Doubled in the Last 5 Years

St Mungo’s chief executive Howard Sinclair called the deaths “premature and entirely preventable,” and urged the government to end rough sleeping by conducting reviews into the deaths, protecting funding for homelessness hostels, and improving decision-making on immigration for those without a home.

“This is nothing short of a national scandal,” said Sinclair. “We are calling on the prime minister to follow through on her commitment to end rough sleeping by making sure all parts of the public sector play their part, especially the health, justice, and welfare systems.”

Since the majority of rough sleepers who died lived with mental health issues, and NHS services can be “severely overstretched,” according to the report, specialist services are required to provide “rapid relief.”

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“[There is an] attitude of some MH [mental health] professionals that rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice rather than a MH issue,” said an anonymous outreach worker from London quoted in the report. “Sometimes it can feel like they are more concerned that the rough sleeper will be in hospital for a long time taking up the space rather than what is in the best interests of the rough sleeper.”

The report features a national survey, which states that 64% of outreach services said gaining access to emergency accommodation had grown more difficult compared to five years ago — and 70% said access to mental health services had also gotten harder in that period. Just 21% of outreach workers said their services had received a real terms increase in funding in the last five years.

“This is a scandal and something the government needs to recognise and do more about,” said Petra Salva, St Mungo’s director of rough sleeping services. “There should be more funds and support for these groups but instead they have been cut over the years and that correlates in these people stuck living on the streets.”

It comes after home secretary Sajid Javid announced a new £30 million fund in March to support councils in England with high numbers of people sleeping rough to "break the homelessness cycle once and for all." The Homelessness Reduction Bill also came into law in April, obliging councils to help people with free human rights information and assistance within 56 days of losing their homes. However, the bill does not offer any additional funding.

"People can look at ministers like me and say 'are they really going to do this?'" Javid said in an interview with BBC Breakfast. "Judge us by the actual actions, and this is real action that is going to help people."

The average life expectancy for people sleeping rough is just 43 years. For the rest of Britain, it’s 82 years — while a quarter of the wider population will also experience mental health issues, according to Mind.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which includes action on ensuring that everyone has access to adequate shelter and promoting mental health and wellbeing. You can join us by taking action on this issue here.