A leading homeless organisation has expressed serious concerns over drug dependency amongst homeless women.

Data published by Homeless Link shows that the proportion of homeless women who have used drugs is higher than for homeless men.

An audit into the health needs of 3,336 homeless people, found that 33% of female drug-users have 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.

There is also greater use of benzodiazepines and prescriptions drugs amongst women, says Homeless Link.

Homeless women are more likely to experience mental health problems (women 39%, men 33%). Homelink Links says this shows why homeless services need to better understand and act upon health inequalities.

Other finding from the report include:

  • 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

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.”