People who are homeless are "healthier" thanks to pioneering legal support project

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Homeless Health Team

People who are experiencing homelessness are being helped to achieve more stable lives, and in turn become healthier, thanks to a unique service that provides legal support to resolve their housing, immigration and benefits problems.

Patients who take part in the scheme are more likely to attend hospital outpatient appointments and seek help from other health professionals including GPs, addiction and mental health services.

The service, which is run by Guy's and St Thomas' Homeless Health Team and Southwark Law Centre, has helped 39 patients who are homeless since it started in January 2020.

Hospital data shows that among 17 patients supported by the project there was a 94% reduction in hospital admissions and 97% reduction in the length of hospital stay after six months. It also shows that this group of patients were more likely to attend their hospital outpatient appointments for ongoing care, with attendance increasing by 51%.

Melu Mekonnen, a housing manager for the Homeless Health Team at Guy's and St Thomas', says: "This group of patients attend the emergency department (A&E) frequently and are more likely to be admitted to hospital urgently or as an emergency case because of issues like diabetes, excessive intake of alcohol and, or drug overdose.

"Homeless patients whose immigration cases are resolved through this scheme for example, are entitled to be accommodated by their local authorities. In turn they are more likely to engage with health, drug and alcohol services and attend their outpatient hospital appointments.

"As a result, they are healthier - more likely to eat nutritious foods, take their medications, carry out daily living tasks like preparing meals for themselves, and significantly reduce or avoid drugs and alcohol use.

"Patients who attend their hospital outpatients' appointments are much less likely to attend the emergency department and to be admitted to hospital - freeing up beds for potentially life-saving treatments.”

The Homeless Health Team, made up of nurses, housing workers, occupational therapists and social workers, support patients to find suitable long-term accommodation following discharge from hospital, and give advice and refer them to other services for ongoing support. However, the team are not legally able to provide legal advice on immigration matters.

Ruth Mercer, a solicitor with the charity, Southwark Law Centre, is an experienced advocate for people who are homeless and also trains the hospitals’ staff to recognise people who need legal representation, says: "The Homeless Health Team connects us with some of the most vulnerable clients we work with. They refer exceptionally vulnerable people, who have often been long-term homeless and living very chaotic lives due to legal issues, such as lack of immigration status or inability to access Local Authority homelessness services.

"It's brilliant when we are able to take on someone's case and resolve their legal issues because it makes an absolutely massive difference for their day to day lives.

"Once a homeless person has resolved their immigration status and/or housing issues they are able to find stability, access services and move on with their lives. It's a really big life change for them."

The Homeless Patients Legal Advocacy Service is funded by Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, through generous donations from the public.

Last updated: September 2023

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