Homeless health data finds heroin and cocaine dependency more prevalent amongst women than men.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015 - 12:00am

Data published today by Homeless Link shows that the proportion of women experiencing homelessness who have recently used heroin, crack/cocaine and methadone is higher than that of men. There is also greater use of benzodiazepines and prescriptions drugs amongst women.

In an audit of the health needs of 3,355 people experiencing homelessness, 33% of female drug-users reported having used heroin in the last month compared to 28% of men, whilst 31% of women had taken crack or cocaine compared to 29% of men. The disparity is even greater in methadone use, with 36% of women having used in the last month against 29% of men.  

There is also a greater prevalence amongst homeless women of diagnosed mental health conditions like depression (women 39%, men 33%). This shows the need for services to understand these issues when planning interventions for women who are homeless.

This is just one of the findings from information provided by 27 areas using Homeless Link’s Health Needs Audit toolkit, which allows health, housing and social care services to gather evidence of the health needs of homeless people locally.

The results published today highlight the health inequalities experienced by homeless people across England, particularly those sleeping rough:

  • 34% of people sleeping rough had used heroin in the last month; 37% crack/cocaine
  • 37% drink every day
  • 91% reported a mental health difficulty
  • 88% reported a physical health problem
  • 38% of homeless people had visited A&E at least once in the last 6 months.

Homeless Link was commissioned to develop the audit by the Department of Health in 2010, with a revised version for 2015 funded by Public Health England. It is designed to help gather evidence to improve the health services available to homeless people, and tackle health inequality.  

Jacqui McCluskey, Director of Policy and Communications for Homeless Link, said:

“The details revealed by this research may be surprising, but they illustrate how useful a health needs audit can be in accurately assessing the needs of those experiencing homelessness. This evidence is vital for local areas to ensure the most effective responses to people’s needs are commissioned.  

“There is a clear link between housing and health needs, which services across both sectors must work together to address. We urge public health, health services and housing and homelessness partners across England to carry out local audits to ensure homeless people in their area have access to the support they need.” 

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director, Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said:

“Homeless people experience significantly worse health than that of the general population, and the cost to the NHS is considerable. If we are to make improvements for these very vulnerable people we need to develop our understanding of this population and their specific health needs.

“There are challenges in this, but the Health Needs Audit is there to support commissioners and local services. We urge local teams to make the most of this powerful tool.”

The Homeless Health Needs Audit can be downloaded from: www.homeless.org.uk/homelesshealth  

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Stephen Holland

Stephen served as our Communications Officer until January 2016.