Long-term mental health support key to reducing homeless deaths in Sheffield, experts claim
Addressing the deep seated mental health problems of homeless people is the key to reducing the number of people dying on the streets of Sheffield, two experts have said.
As The Star reported last month, the numbers of homeless people dying in Sheffield had trebled over the last year, with 15 homeless people losing their lives in the city in 2018.
Now, two experts who work at the coal face of the issue in Sheffield have said that unless the city provides mental health support to vulnerable people that is on a par with its homelessness and addiction programmes, there is a limit to what can be achieved.
Daryl Bishop, project development manager at Ben's Centre, said services like theirs, the Cathedral Archer Project and others were doing excellent work, but that this needed to be backed up by better support.
“We deal with a lot of crisis but we are not set up to offer long-term mental health support,” he said.
“When people are in crisis there are a lot of emotions all at once, there are tears and shouting and resentment and lashing out. But the other side is the long-term embedded problems that have led them into this life in the first place.
“We often find that when they come to us we need to go right back, but we have other clients to keep happy as well. That is where the mental health services should be coming in but the services that are available have very small teams and are stretched really thin.”
Daryl said he would like more mental health professionals based in places like shelters and hostels, so service users could get help in an environment they were more comfortable with.
He said: “A lot of our clients struggle with GP appointments as they are stepping into a different world. It is quite a daunting experience.
“There are so many barriers to them getting the help they want with their drug or alcohol problems that things just get worse and worse and people’s health systems break down or you get overdoses.”
An example of how investing in long term support can reap rewards can be found at Emmaus Sheffield, a service which provides accommodation and employment for people who are homeless.
CEO Graham Bostock said people’s problems can often be so complex they need months and sometimes even years of support.
He said: “Each case is complicated and each case is different. If you look at homeless people and why they are homeless, some have been abused, many have been in care and some may have done bad things themselves.
“We work with them on personal development, self-esteem and how they are feeling mentally, physically and spiritually. Some people’s transformations can be amazing and they can go on to achieve great things.”
Emmaus Sheffield currently run the whole operation on a team of just four people and can only offer support to 18 residents at any one time.
In return for accommodation, food and support, they ask residents to work for the organisation as well as to adhere to fairly strict rules on drink and drugs.
Graham, whose background is with the Probation Service, said an already difficult job got much harder as a result of the huge budget cuts councils and services have experienced over the last ten years.
He said: “The government says they have put so many millions into this or that but it is more about support. We don’t have a time limit so the longest someone has been here is eight years.
“Some people have never lived on their own in a flat so immediately pressure builds and things quickly break down.
“What people need is long term support but that is time consuming and needs the right people.”
Homelessness conference hears inspiring stories of recovery amid funding woes
Funding for services which work with homeless people in Sheffield has almost halved in the last decade, a conference has heard.
A conference at Theatre Deli on Eyre Street heard that the money available to organisations which work with the city's homeless population decreased from £18m in 2010 to £9.2m last year, with further reductions expected.
The conference saw organisations such as Shelter, the South Yorkshire Housing Association, the Salvation Army, Roundabout, Framework, Crisis, Target Housing and Sheffield Women's Aid highlight the positive impact they have on the lives of vulnerable people in Sheffield.
But many said that without more financial support for the sector, there was a limit to how many people the services would be able to help.
Host Andy Parkinson, service manager for the Salvation Army homeless services in the city, said a decade of austerity had undoubtedly had an adverse impact on some of the most vulnerable people in the city.
He said: “The challenge for us all is to run the best services with the resources we have got.
“But when money is cut it can only be a negative for this community and we want decision makers to think about the human cost of that.
“They have savings to make but we are worried about the impact on clients.”
As well the financial struggles the sector faces, the event highlighted the valuable support the organisations provide, with attendees including Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts hearing inspiring success stories from service users who had benefited from their help.
Kathryn Higgins, service manager at South Yorkshire Housing Association, said: “Over the years, these services have worked with thousands of people with really positive outcomes.
“However, recently many have experienced and been impacted by budget cuts. These cuts directly impact our ability to offer essential frontline services to our clients and in turn the lives of many vulnerable men, women and children in our city who already face extremely difficult circumstances.
“Our concern is that should these cuts continue to be imposed then this would be extremely detrimental to these people and lead to significant rises in street homelessness as well as additional pressures for the NHS and other public services.”