Early death on streets

Homelessness link worker Hannah Cassidy
Homelessness link worker Hannah Cassidy
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Hannah Cassidy is 34 years old. She has just become Blackpool’s first hospital based housing link worker.

Her age is relevant for one reason... if Hannah was having to live on the streets, sleep rough, sofa surf or book into the “20p Hiltons”, a public loo, for the night her life expectancy would be a heck of a lot lower.

It would be just nine more years. The average age of death for a male living on the streets is 47. For a female it’s 43.

The hardships endured and risks encountered knock 30-34 years off the average life span. It takes a lot to shock the Blackpool care worker but that fact halted her in her tracks.

“I was shocked when I learned that,” says Hannah. “The average life expectancy is 77.

“That shows something needs to be done to help homeless people. We are in the 21st Century and I believe that people should not be sleeping on the streets.”

The Blackpool care worker is driven by a real passion to help others. As the first hospital-based housing link worker she can effectively write her own remit – as well as right some of the wrongs she sees in society.

Her post is funded by Blackpool Primary Care Trust. She works in collaboration with Blackpool Council’s Housing Options Service and is the single point of contact for staff with patients who are homeless.

She decided to make a career out of helping rough sleepers after she came into contact with a man who was terminally ill and had nowhere to live. Hannah explains: “He was rough sleeping in Blackpool. He slept in the park and near to the hospital. He had so many different issues and needed help from so many different organisations.

“It really brought home that services need to work together to help people with complex needs. It’s so important the hospital and housing are linked together.”

Last year 300 homeless people found themselves in A&E. Rough sleepers are five times more likely to attend A&E as they only access health services at the point of crisis. Nor are they crying wolf. They are three times more likely to be admitted and their average stay in hospital is also three times longer than the average stay for those living a more stable settled life in mainstream society.

Hannah can help rough sleepers, those in temporary accommodation or at risk of being homeless and those who cannot return to their accommodation because it is unsuitable. “We cannot tackle their health problems without them having somewhere to sleep. They cannot keep up with their medication and don’t tend to access medical help until they get to the point of crisis if they are on the streets. It’s generally a myth that people want to be homeless and living on the streets. Often homeless people have a history of sleeping between the streets, night shelters and hostels and when they have done this for a long time it is very difficult for them to maintain a tenancy. It’s difficult because they aren’t used to having the responsibility of paying bills or cooking for themselves. They don’t know how to live independently.”

As the key link between council, hospital discharge team and the mental health community hospital Parkwood, NHS staff alert Hannah to any at-risk patients. She aims to see them within one working day or within four hours if the patient is in A&E. “I look at the individual’s situation and link them into services provided by Housing Options. This could mean they are prioritised for emergency accommodation or social housing, or that they are referred to accredited hostels or night shelters. This service is very important for Blackpool because we have a high number of transients and a disproportionate number of people who are drug and alcohol dependent or have mental health problems. There is also a lot of substandard housing and HMOs (houses of multiple occupancy) which tend to draw in people with complex needs.”

The troubleshooter adds: “I like being able to help in a crisis and get a positive outcome. There is nothing more satisfying than helping a patient who has been rough sleeping to find somewhere to go when they are discharged.”

She cherishes the memory of going out on a works do and coming face to face with a young man she had rescued from the streets. He was working as a waiter and had not only found a job but permanent accommodation and a future.

Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for housing Coun Gillian Campbell applauds the appointment.

She said: “Our close partnership with the hospital allows us to reach out to vulnerable residents who could otherwise have gone under the radar and give them the one to one support needed to help them get back on their feet.”

Contact the teams on (01253) 477760 for Blackpool, (01253) 891000 for Wyre or (01253) 658658 for Fylde.