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Overcoming the health and homelessness link

30 September 2015

This week the Big Lottery Fund is profiling the fourth biggest cause of youth homelessness; mental and physical health issues.

Nature in Mind is a Nottingham based project providing support to people with mental health issues. The people who run this project, Framework, work mainly with homeless individuals. Framework only received their funding for this project from the Big Lottery Fund money in April and already they have had around 100 enquiries so far, and have worked with around 70 beneficiaries.

Carl Colton is the service manager for Nature in Mind, and he caught up with our campaigns manager, Pete Scott, to tell him more about the service.

Hi Carl, can you tell me a little about Nature in Mind and what it does.

We provide an ecotherapy type service encompassing anything outdoors that can act as therapy. This could be horticulture, exercise, walking, cycling or going to green gyms. It can also be arts related; we run drumming workshops, using nature to create art or art in nature

Photo of the Framework entrance signA lot of people who have mental health problems – and homelessness is part of that – lack a certain amount of direction, purpose or belonging and ‘green exercises’ help people to develop something meaningful again; a sense of purpose or a sense of role. They start growing their own food, making connections with their immediate environment and that gives people a reason to wake up in the morning.

Nature in Mind isn’t focussing on peoples’ problems, a lot of it is people choosing to come along, looking at the creativity and the enjoyment of nature; it’s very much an invitation to engage. To engage in something that’s fresh and new, or reengaging with something that someone used to get something positive from.

Can you tell me about the links between homelessness and mental health that you see?

It’s very rare that we see someone who has mental health problems who hasn’t at one time ended up homeless. Homelessness more or less goes hand in hand with people who experience mental health problems.

From my observations from my years of work, probably between 50-75% of the people that are homeless are experiencing some sort of mental health problem. It might not be a diagnosed mental illness, but a mental health problem.

When people come to us, they have already engaged with services to address their homelessness. They will have moved into a hostel or a support flat, and will come to us to start building their futures and developing their skills.

So your project, it doesn’t provide an immediate practical support in the sense of ‘Here is a hot meal or a bed for that night’, but you try to address the underlying cause of why someone might become homeless with some kind of structure and resilience to enable them to mitigate or prevent homelessness from happening again?

That’s absolutely right yes. Generally speaking, people who are confident and have structure in their life, people that have a sense of purpose and wellbeing don’t end up homeless. People who have chaotic lifestyles, who neglect themselves, who can’t manage their money well, are more likely to end up homeless.

The indirect, but intentional consequence of this then is that they are less likely to become homeless again?

Absolutely.  It’s about developing enduring change in their life from within, and that’s what will prevent homelessness in the future without needing any intervention from others. There are some people who come to Nature in Mind and think “this is exactly what I need.” Their passion for something new, for being outside, has increased. They don’t want other stuff in their life, and that’s what prevents homelessness.

They go outside, they get exercise, they get the sunlight that stimulates vitamin D and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of wellbeing. People start to eat better and they’ll have a greener diet because they are cooking their own produce.

If you were meeting a client for the first time, what would you tell them about why they should be involved with your project?

Engaging with nature over a period will probably change your life completely. It’s as simple as that. You will bring changes into your life that will stay with you forever.

All of the people in this seven minute video have at some point experienced homelessness, and have been helped by Framework. Carl described people here who have “chosen to let go of issues that increased the chance of becoming homeless, because they found something better in their life.”

See for yourself the work that Framework is carrying out:

Health, be it mental or physical, might not be a direct cause of homelessness in itself, but it a sign of increased vulnerability. If through funding projects like Nature in Mind, we can increase peoples’ sense of resilience and wellbeing, and remove illness as a contributing factor, then hopefully we are going some way to reducing the risk of homelessness for this vulnerable group.


More on young people and homelessness

Join in our conversations on homeless below or on social media, following #homelessness.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 October 2015 2:48 am

    I love what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever
    work and exposure! Keep up the good works guys I’ve you guys to my personal blogroll.


  1. The young and the homeless | The Big Lottery Fund Blog

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