Meeting the Complex Needs of Those Living on Our Streets; the Average Life Expectancy of a Homeless Person in Wales Is Just 47 Years Old. Living Rough for a Long Period of Time Can Lead to Chronic Physical and Mental Health Problems, Particularly in Men. Here, Mark Smith Looks at How Health and Social Services Are Aiming to Improve the Quality of Life for the Homeless Population and Get Them off the Streets

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), March 18, 2015 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Complex Needs of Those Living on Our Streets; the Average Life Expectancy of a Homeless Person in Wales Is Just 47 Years Old. Living Rough for a Long Period of Time Can Lead to Chronic Physical and Mental Health Problems, Particularly in Men. Here, Mark Smith Looks at How Health and Social Services Are Aiming to Improve the Quality of Life for the Homeless Population and Get Them off the Streets


Byline: Mark Smith

Access to healthcare for the homeless population in Wales is "incredibly problematic" and needs a huge increase in resources, experts in the field have warned.

The Welsh Government claims welfare reforms and the introduction of the so-called "bedroom tax" have left more people homeless despite improvements in the quality of support.

The majority of people who find themselves homeless suffer with a range of chronic conditions including poor nutrition, poor oral hygiene, substance misuse and mental health problems.

According to latest Welsh Government statistics, the average life expectancy of a homeless person in Wales is just 47.

Louise Poley, a consultant nurse in substance misuse in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said: "If those figures related to any other section of the population more would be done to address it.

"People dying at the age of 47 is unjustifiable. Many homeless people find themselves wanting to go to prison because their basic needs are met in terms of warmth, food and routine."

The homeless population is one of the most costly for the NHS in Wales if the people are not supported and treated effectively, the nurse claimed.

She said people from "disadvantaged social backgrounds" are the most likely to find themselves on the streets, but this is not always the case.

"These people often have no employment opportunities and were brought up without a good education and cannot advocate for themselves," she added.

"But it can happen to anyone, including those who have been employed, owned their own homes but have struggled due to crises or a marriage breakdown."

She claims providing continuity of care is difficult for homeless people due to their transient state and their reluctance to seek help.

Without stable accommodation or an address, she said it is very difficult to begin and complete a course of treatment.

Mrs Poley, who helped set up a project to engage homeless people in drug and alcohol treatment services, added: "Access to healthcare is incredibly problematic for the homeless, who generally have no address to send appointment letters, and competing priorities such as access to accommodation, substance misuse issues, mental health problems and poor mobility.

"The homeless have poorer health and greater health needs because of the conditions they live in.

"They may also have a perception that they are a discriminated group in emergency units and other healthcare environments."

There is just one dedicated nursing position in the Cardiff and Vale Uni-versity Health Board area to treat those who live on the streets or in hostels.

The post, which is covered part-time by two part-time nurses, attempts to register individuals with GP practices across the region.

She added: "The staff who are working in the homelessness sector are second to none. The provision that's there is excellent, but the need is still there.

"However, an improvement in the measures to prevent homelessness and assist individuals and families to maintain tenancies is vital.

"We need that support to keep people in accommodation so they don't end up in a cycle which proves hugely expensive, not just to them as individuals, but to health and social care costs."

One of Wales' biggest homelessness projects, the Huggard Centre, was given a financial boost three years ago thanks to Lottery funding.

The centre houses two day centres, a hostel and a training, development and enterprise suite.

Also on site are Cardiff Council's frontline housing and homelessness services, a medical suite and the council's own hostel, called Ty Tresillian.

Substance misuse development officer Gail Smith, who is employed directly by Huggard, said Cardiff is "unrivalled" for its healthcare provision for homeless people. …

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Meeting the Complex Needs of Those Living on Our Streets; the Average Life Expectancy of a Homeless Person in Wales Is Just 47 Years Old. Living Rough for a Long Period of Time Can Lead to Chronic Physical and Mental Health Problems, Particularly in Men. Here, Mark Smith Looks at How Health and Social Services Are Aiming to Improve the Quality of Life for the Homeless Population and Get Them off the Streets
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