When you think of homelessness, you probably think of the people you see living on the streets. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every one person sleeping rough, there are another nine who are homeless and living in homeless hostels or other forms of temporary accommodation.
Different forms of homelessness
People who are homeless fall into three categories:
1. Rough sleepers
This is the most visible form of homelessness - those who are living on the streets. Homelessness charity Crisis estimates that there are almost 5,000 people sleeping rough in England on any given night. It’s also the most dangerous form. Rough sleepers are more likely to be victims of crime and female rough sleepers in particular are more likely to experience violence. They are also more likely to suffer from mental or physical health problems and develop issues with drugs and alcohol than the general population.
2. Statutory homeless
Those who have sought help from their local authority and been deemed a ‘priority need’ are considered statutory homeless. This means that the council has a duty of care to find them accommodation. There are several factors that determine if someone’s a priority need, including whether they have children, are under 18 or are especially vulnerable.
3. Hidden homeless
The overwhelming majority of homeless people fall into this category. Those experiencing hidden homelessness won’t be counted in official figures but are without a stable, suitable home. They may be living in squats, homeless hostels, B&Bs, women’s shelters or sleeping on the sofa at a friend or family member’s house.
What causes homelessness?
Homelessness is a complex issue with a number of related and often overlapping causes. These include:
- Rising rent and a lack of affordable social housing
- Leaving prison, the army or social care with no accommodation
- Women escaping abusive partners
- Mental or physical health problems and substance abuse
- Life events such as a relationship breakdown or losing a job
Homelessness can be a vicious cycle as it makes these problems harder to fix. For example, losing your job may cause you to become homeless, which in turn makes it harder to find another job. This then makes it hard to be able to afford accommodation again.
Can young people experience homelessness?
It may seem surprising but last year, research by Centrepoint, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity, found that 103,000 young people asked for help with homelessness. And this number doesn’t take into account all those who didn’t ask for support.
Some young people are left homeless after their relationship with their parents breaks down and they don't feel safe living at home anymore. They may stay with other family members or on friends' sofas for a period of time until they find a place to live permanently or they come into contact with a charity who will be able to provide them with accommodation and support.
Can we end homelessness?
It’s difficult to get an accurate number of exactly how many homeless people there are. One reason for this is because the majority of those experiencing homelessness are hidden, and rough sleepers often remain out of sight for their own safety. However, according to homelessness charity Shelter, the numbers are rising.
In 2018, the UK government announced a £100 million plan to end rough sleeping by 2027. The money will go on increasing the number of shelter beds and rough sleeping support staff. However, councils say it doesn’t go far enough as budgets are being cut while the number of rough sleepers continues to rise.
An example from Finland
Maybe we need to look to Finland, the only EU country where homelessness is falling, for the answer. Finland introduced their Housing First principle just over a decade ago and it’s based on the idea of making housing unconditional and getting rid of night shelters and short-term hostels. Instead of saying to homeless people, solve your problems and then we’ll give you a home, the Housing First model believes a home is the stable foundation that makes it easier for homeless people to resolve their problems.
Since it launched in 2008, Housing First has created 3,500 new homes, long-term homelessness has fallen by over 35%, and rough sleeping has been pretty much eradicated, to the extent that Helsinki, Finland’s capital, now only has one night shelter.
What can you do to help?
There’s several great ways you can help people experiencing homelessness:
- Sign up to the Centrepoint Sleep Out and sleep on the street for one night to show your support for the young people Centrepoint work with and help fund their life-changing work.
- Fundraise or donate to a homelessness charity - either by donating money, items to a Crisis charity shop or useful items for homeless people such as sleeping bags or warm winter clothing.
- Volunteer your time at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter or homelessness charity shop. Do-it.org is a great website to look for volunteering opportunities near you.
- If you’re concerned about someone (over the age of 18) sleeping rough in England or Wales, you can use Street Link to alert local services that may be able to help them.