By Rob Payne
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we have been reflecting on how we support people who have experienced mental health challenges in addition to homelessness. I am proud of the work our team does – the many hours spent empathically listening to people’s stories helps build the trust and rapport that is so essential to providing practical help with housing.
In particular, I think of Viera*, a woman who lost her job due to the pandemic, then lost her housing and slept rough on the streets of London before moving to a shelter. Even though we helped her find a home, her physical and mental state deteriorated due to grief and the stress she experienced from losing her job and becoming homeless.
Her mental health problems made it harder to keep on top of her responsibilities, which contributed to her Universal Credit claim being stopped. She contacted us for help after we housed her because she had no money for food and was threatened with homelessness again due to rent arrears. We were glad that we were able to help her access a food bank and advocate on her behalf with Universal Credit and her landlord.
After several attempts at resolving the situation, eventually the arrears were paid off and the threat of homelessness was removed so she could focus on her recovery.
The scale of the problem
Many people experiencing homelessness battle problems with their mental health. According to research, 45 percent of people experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. This rises to 8 out of 10 people who are sleeping rough.
Poor mental health can make it harder to cope with housing problems. Being homeless can cause anxiety and other mental health issues, due to the constant stress and uncertainty of not having a stable place to live, as well as the challenges of navigating life without a support network.
At Two Step, many of the people we work with to find housing not only have challenges with their mental health but have also experienced trauma — making it even more difficult to find and keep a home.
Chris — another person whom we helped to find a home – knows about the intersection between mental health, homelessness and trauma all too well. He escaped from a physically and mentally abusive relationship, and walked away from his home, his job, and his social network. He then slept rough for a while in London before being housed. This experience has taken a toll on his confidence and self-worth, and caused him to contemplate suicide.
Now that he has been housed, he recently started working and is able to focus on the future. He is grateful that we are just a phone call away if he needs support with his housing situation.
How do we help?
We focus on supporting people who are experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges by listening empathically, showing compassion and focusing on what steps they can take to help their situation improve.
We find that demonstrating that you care helps people to be confident that they can approach us if they have future problems with their landlord, neighbours or finances.
Part of our mission is to empower people to improve their lives and help them have the tools to work toward their goals. According to John, another person that we helped house, we’re on the right path:
‘From the financial support and advice to the efficiency of their communications with landlords … I could not have done it on my own and I am deeply grateful.’
*names changed to protect identity
Click to learn more about how you can support people experiencing homelessness.
 Source: Crisis