Homeless Link
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Tackling drugs and homelessness: 'If it wasn't hard, we would have done it already'

Government departments and agencies yesterday agreed that much more interdepartmental co-operation is needed to succeed in tackling the intertwined issues of drugs and homelessness.

With 80 per cent of rough sleepers acknowledging a drugs problem (1) and research indicating that every £1 spent on drug treatment equals £9.50 saved on criminal and health care costs (2), this is not an issue that can be ignored.

At a Homeless Link/Shelter conference, Paul Hayes, chief executive of the National Treatment Agency (pictured right) pointed to successes in the past 10 years in getting more people into drug treatment faster, but admitted some of the most vulnerable people were being left behind. Hayes conceded: ‘If it wasn’t hard, we would have done it already.’

Lisa Barker, deputy director homelessness and housing management, Communities and Local Government, echoed this concern, acknowledging that government targets to reduce rough sleeping had often failed to reach the one in five rough sleepers who have both substance misuse and mental health problems. Barker recognised that a past lack of joined up work between agencies had failed some drug users whose accommodation needs were not considered until they were ready for discharge from treatment, at which point it was often too late find appropriate housing.

In an attempt to establish how local housing authorities and Drug Action teams could work more effectively together, Homeless Link has been conducting research in three London boroughs (3). The results were released today in a new report, Clean break: integrated housing and care pathways for homeless drug users.

Referring to the new report as a ‘crucially important piece of work’, Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: ‘Although the government’s investment in drug treatment has been proven to be effective, the outcomes for drug users are vastly improved and sustained when their accommodation needs are addressed.’

Jane Luby of Tribal Consulting, the author of Clean Break, said: ‘The same message was repeated over and over by the service users interviewed for the report: If they end up on an estate rife with drugs or in a hostel where drug users live, the chances of relapse are stacked against them.’

Speaking at the conference, Dominic Williamson, Homeless Link director of policy, practice and campaigns, said: ‘Homeless people who are desperately trying to kick their habit are frustrated by services not working together. We hope Clean Break will inspire everyone – from government departments to local commissioners and frontline agencies - to integrate their services. The result will be safer communities, reduced homelessness and people given a chance to turn their lives around.’

Matt Leach, director of policy and communications at the Housing Corporation (which helped fund the Clean Break research), said: ‘Drug abuse wrecks individual’s lives. It can also tear holes in the fabric of communities. Housing associations can and indeed are playing a key role in supporting people with drug problems. As the Clean Break report rightly points out - we need to promote better joint working and greater understanding of appropriate housing to not only help individuals, but also support the communities where they live.’

Notes to editors:

1. Fountain J and Howes S (2001) “Rough sleeping, substance misuse and service provision in London” National Addicition Centre, London
2. Godfrey C et al (2004) “Economic analysis of costs and consequences of the treatment of drug misuse”, Addiction, Vol 99 No 6.
3. Clean break research in the London boroughs of Newham, Islington and Havering was funded by grants from the Housing Corporation and the London Housing Foundation. Download the research summary and accompanying toolkit from here.

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