Homeless people

Homelessness and Psychotic Disorders

by Saoirse Osborne

Homelessness in all forms – whether rough sleeping, sofa surfing or hostel living – is rising. In England, is estimated that that ‘core homelessness’– the most extreme and immediate forms of homelessness - tallied over 195,000 in 2018, a 44.1% increase from 2012. Rough sleeping has risen particularly acutely, doubling since 2012: 13,000 people have no roof over their heads on any given night1.

For many, homelessness has economic causes such as rent arrears, which can be resolved with services like tenancy management or housing benefits2. However, a subgroup of the homeless population experience not ‘transitional’ but ‘chronic’ homelessness. For this group, whose homelessness is long-term or recurrent, their situation is compounded by their complex support needs3.

Chronic homelessness can be caused by a number of factors, such as substance abuse4. A particularly common – and evidently unjust – cause is schizophrenia and psychosis.

One study found that over one third of UK schizophrenia sufferers have experienced homelessness in their lifetime. In the UK, psychosis is 4-5 times more common among homeless people than the general population – and a shocking 50-100 times more common among rough sleepers5. Schizophrenia or psychosis is a clear risk factor for homelessness.

It is appalling, but not surprising, that people with schizophrenia are more vulnerable to homelessness than most people. Though many people with schizophrenia lead fulfilling lives, their symptoms, which can include hallucinations, depressions, and cognitive impairment, can make it difficult for the sufferers to maintain relationships, access treatment, or keep employment or housing6.

To be homeless with schizophrenia represents a unique degree of stigma and isolation: homeless people with multiple needs live on the extreme margins of social disadvantage7. Why, then, are people with schizophrenia not better supported to avoid homelessness?

Whether at risk of homelessness or already homeless, people with schizophrenia should be given the support they need to access and keep housing. That may entail an offer of permanent supportive housing, such as Hammersley Homes plans to provide. Or it may involve a support plan of home visits to provide practical support to maintain a tenancy, like our Home Visits Service (find out more at: https://hammersleyhomes.org/our-services).

No person should ever be without a home. But mental illness-related homelessness seems especially unfair, is especially difficult for the sufferer, and is especially fixable.

Many psychosis sufferers need support to maintain their safety, welfare, and home. To allow such a vulnerable population to reach such a crisis point as homelessness represents a failing in our society.

Saoirse Osborne,
September 2021