A Conservative council in Torbay has refused to support a young person with serious mental health problems, saying that they should be able to cope with being homeless and living on the streets like any “ordinary person” would.
In a letter, the council say that they had decided the young person would be no more vulnerable or at risk of harm than an ‘ordinary person’.
The appallingly callous letter, which also implies that people who have mental health problems are not ‘ordinary’ people, was posted online yesterday by the homeless charity, Humanity Torbay.
Two of the conditions the young person has – depression and emotionally unstable personality disorder – each carry with them a significant risk of suicide. People with the latter condition experience a pattern of sometimes rapid fluctuation from periods of confidence to despair, with fear of abandonment and rejection. There is a particularly strong tendency towards suicidal thinking and self-harm.
Transient psychotic symptoms, including brief delusions and hallucinations, may also be present. It is also associated with substantial impairment of social, psychological and occupational functioning and quality of life. Associated illnesses include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, recurrent self harm, anxiety and depression. Physical illnesses related to this condition are:
- Hepatic disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Sexually transmitted infections (risk factor is increased because of poor impulse control).
Being homeless will increase each of these risks substantially.
People with emotionally unstable personality disorder are particularly at risk of suicide.
A controversial council
Last month Torbay council paid £3m for the Proper Cornish factory in Bodmin, Cornwall, in a controversial bid to improve finances. The council announced it was halting all non urgent expenditure due to a projected overspend of £2.8 million in 2018.
The council say they are trying to grow its revenues with business investments, and has spent £100m on four properties in the last financial year. The authority’s multi-million property portfolio includes hotels, office blocks and distribution centres in different parts of the country.
They claim that the council can invest up to £200m in “opportunities and assets” to generate income. Last month, cross-party opposition also emerged against a plan for Torbay Council to invest £15m in a new distribution warehouse near Exeter said to be for online retailer Amazon.
Meanwhile citizens in the area are being stripped of their opportunities and assets, with rising numbers being unable to meet even their fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter.
Furthermore, evidence clearly shows that there is a considerable link between homelessness and mental health problems; however, this link is often overlooked. Sometimes mental health problems can lead to homelessness, but it’s also evident that being homeless contributes significantly to the worsening existing mental ill health, and it also creates mental illness.
A home is vital for stability, good mental and physical health, allowing people to live in safety, security, peace and dignity. Of course, there are numerous factors which can cause people to become homeless, many of which are beyond an individual’s control, such as lack of affordable housing, disability and poverty. But what really needs to be highlighted to this council is the two-way relationship between homelessness and mental ill health. Homelessness will invariably exacerbate an existing mental health condition. In turn, this can make it even harder for that person to cope, recover and to improve their circumstances.
Staff who work with homeless individuals in councils, shelters, hostels and health services, must be aware of their emotional and psychological needs, wellbeing, and put their safety first.
The homeless population currently struggle to access healthcare and tend to rely on A&E when they reach crisis point. Torbay council, who seem to operate within a business model, have nonetheless failed to recognise that their approach is ultimately more costly, and reflects very poor management of public funds.
Although there is no such ‘right to housing’ in itself, the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, is recognised in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The letter from the Council was written to attempt to justify the council’s decision to not make the young person a priority for housing under Section 189(1) C of the Housing Act, 1996. The Council’s decision clearly violates the Equality Act 2010, as it fails to recognise the eligibility criteria laid out in the Act. All public authorities, including local authorities and other registered providers of social housing, are subject to the public sector equality duty to have ‘due regard’ to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination
- advance equality of opportunity, and
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not.
This allows for positive discrimination in relation to disability (see the Public sector equality duty for more on this). Under the Equality Act, mental illness is also included in the category of disability, which is a ‘protected characteristic’.
Under the Housing Act legislation, priority need for accommodation was established.
(1) The following have a priority need for accommodation—
(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;
(d) a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.
The shocking council letter to a vulnerable young person with mental ill health.
Charity and community group Humanity Torbay say they have shown the decision letter to a solicitor, while not disclosing any personal details, to protect the identity of the vulnerable young person concerned.
This person showed the charity the letter, however, because they wished the public to see the awful situation they were placed in and the risks they were exposed to because of the council’s decision, despite being so unwell and vulnerable to begin with.
A spokesperson for Humanity Torbay said: “What is so appalling, what completely horrified us is that this person was not considered priority need after being housed temporarily.
“The most chilling part of all this was that this particular person who came to us was in great distress and need. It’s so terrible that they were told that “however looking at all the facts I believe that you are resilient enough to manage with a reasonable level of functionality and I’m not satisfied that your ability to manage being homeless even that homelessness must result in you having to sleep rough occasionally or in the longer term would deteriorate to a level where the harm you’re likely to experience would be outside of the range of vulnerability of that an ordinary person would experience.”
“What shocked us was the fact we saw this young person’s doctors’ letters as well. We are sure this is happening all over the country but this is Torbay Council, who we have desperately tried to work with.
“We felt a care of duty to our client who asked us to give this to the public so they could see what is going on. We have been very careful to make sure this persons identity is not compromised in anyway and as we say, we have spoken to a solicitor because we are horrified and shocked that somebody with severe depression and other medical conditions is deemed fit to be able to sleep on the streets.
“Torbay Council are well aware of what gender this person is as well.”
This is another factor that adds to the already considerable vulnerability of this young person.
Last year, a report was published about Torbay’s homeless crisis, saying that £918,800 investment over five years was needed to “reach a point where homelessness levels would plateau”.
The council seem rather more interested in investing in property, business and land, however.
The charity Crisis were commissioned by the Shekinah Mission in Plymouth to carry out a detailed piece of work to respond to the rising number of rough sleepers in Torbay.
The authors say they spoke with a range of organisations as well as 50 people who have experienced homelessness in Torbay – although Humanity Torbay say they were not contacted. The report resulted in Torbay Council deciding to ‘relocate services and move to a dispersed accommodation model‘ and create ‘a team to support people with the most complex lives integrated with other social care pathways’.
John Hamblin, Chief Executive of Shekinah, said: “For over 25 years, Shekinah has been supporting people who are homeless and rough sleeping. During this time we have repeatedly seen the failure of the current accommodation system to support people with multiple and complex needs. The result has been the creation of a revolving door system where people are falling in and out of services and are often left with no access to accommodation. We are hoping that through this Nationwide Foundation funded study, Shekinah and its partners can start to realise the aspiration that everyone deserves a place to call home.”
I agree. Everyone deserves a place to call home. Shelter is, after all, a fundamental human survival need. But we have reached a stage, as a society, where the most vulnerable citizens are not considered a priority for support. Those are the people that are most in need of it.
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