People experiencing homelessness are three times more likely to suffer from a long-term-illness or disability and seven times more likely to have a diagnosed mental health condition compared to the general population, according to the Unhealthy State of Homelessness 2022 report by Homeless Link.

The report, which draws on data from 2,776 people experiencing homelessness, reveals the “stark, growing health inequalities faced by those without a place to call home”.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents have a physical health issue, with eight in ten of these experiencing more than one condition. Furthermore, 63% have a long-term illness, disability or infirmity compared to 22% of the general population.

Mental health conditions are experienced by eight in ten respondents. This is compared to 12% of the general population who have a mental health condition2 and is up substantially from 45% since the data was last collated in 2014.

Barriers to accessing healthcare are driving a gap between the medical support that people need and the support they receive. Almost three in ten (27%) had not received a medical examination or treatment for a physical health condition when it was needed within the last 12 months. Half of respondents with a mental health issue would like more support to help them cope and recover and 45% of people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with their issue.

The report also highlights how people are being locked into a cycle of homelessness and health issues, driving high emergency service use. People experiencing homelessness attend Accident and Emergency on average three times more than the general population at 0.9 times per year compared to 0.3 times. Physical health issues (32%) and self-harm and attempted suicides (18%) are the top two reasons for A&E use.

Shockingly, 45% of respondents were discharged from hospital onto the street or into unsuitable accommodation. Furthermore, people experiencing homelessness are more likely to be readmitted to hospital in an emergency, with four in ten people readmitted within 30 days of discharge.

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, comments: “We know that ‘homelessness is a public health issue, not only a housing issue’3 and our research corroborates this, revealing the devastating impact of homelessness on health and wellbeing.

“It is shocking to see that healthcare outcomes and access to support are universally poor for people experiencing homelessness – and that there is a sharp disparity when compared to the general population. We should not accept that because someone is experiencing homelessness, they have poorer health and receive poorer healthcare, and it is vital that we act to redress this.

“At a time when the NHS is under significant strain, this is a population that is being driven into an over reliance on acute services like A&E, rather than getting access to the support they need.

“National and local governments must work to understand why health inequalities for people experiencing homelessness are increasing and why services remain unable to meet their needs. This learning must drive the systemic change needed to ensure that everyone receives the support they need to recover and remain well and are not left in circumstances known to worsen their health.”