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.
Homelessness: an overview
Homelessness is the state of not having a home to live in, and it is currently a big problem in the UK: in 2018, 320,000 people were reported as homeless. It is also an issue which greatly affects young people - although the Department for Communities and Local Government recorded 27,000 young people as homeless in 2015, officials estimate that the true figure is larger. An article in the Independent newspaper in the same year reports that the number of young people facing homelessness could be as great as 83,000.
What causes homelessness?
According to research by homelessness charity Homelessness Link, relationship breakdown is the most commonly cited reason for homelessness. However, it's a complex issue with many potential causes. These can include:
- Leaving prison, the army, or social care with no accommodation
- Escape from domestic violence
- Mental or physical health problems
- Substance abuse
- Poverty and low income
Homelessness can be a vicious cycle as it can make personal problems much more difficult to overcome. For example, losing your job may cause you to become homeless as you are unable to keep up with rent or mortgage payments. Losing your home makes it harder to find another job, and even more difficult to afford accommodation again - then, the cycle of homelessness continues.
Understanding the different types of homelessness
People who are homeless fall into three main categories:
1. Rough sleepers
Rough sleepers live on the streets. This is the most visible form of homelessness. The homelessness charity Crisis reports that almost 5,000 people are sleeping rough in England on any given night. Living on the streets is also the most dangerous form of homelessness - rough sleepers have a high risk of being victims of crime, with an investigation by Crisis revealing that 8 out of 10 have suffered violence and abuse in the past year. ‘
There are several reasons why people can end up sleeping rough. For example, mental and physical health problems can lead to rough sleeping, as these conditions can make it more difficult to remain employed, or contribute towards payment for accommodation. Rough sleeping can also lead to increased mental and physical health problems, creating a vicious cycle. A report by Public Health England revealed that up to 50% of rough sleepers require mental health support.
Substance abuse is another reason people can end up sleeping rough. Unfortunately, the negative experience of rough sleeping can then worsen people’s substance abuse - leading to another vicious cycle. The report also noted that 42% of rough sleepers need substance abuse treatment.
2. Statutory homeless
Statutory homeless people are those who are at risk of homelessness, and who are also classified as ‘vulnerable’ under a specific set of conditions specified by the 2002 Homelessness Act. The specific set of conditions that make someone vulnerable includes things like having children under the age of 18, having been victims of domestic violence, having physical and/or mental health issues, and being over the age of 60. According to a report by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 36,000 families were classified as statutory homeless at the beginning of 2020.
3. Hidden homeless
These are people who do not have a home but have not informed their local authorities. Research by the charity Crisis carried out in 2018 indicates that about 62% of single homeless people are part of this ‘hidden’ community.
Hidden homelessness is a real issue - when the authorities are unaware of people experiencing homelessness, these people are unable to access the full range of support services that are available to them, such as temporary housing or counseling.
How the UK is tackling homelessness
In 2018, the UK government announced a £1.2 billion fund to tackle all forms of homelessness and offered local councils across the UK £30 million to increase the immediate support available to people living on the streets. Although this seems like a large sum of money, it was only 0.0015% of the government’s total £772 billion budget in that year. In 2019, the Prime Minister committed a further £260 million for local authorities to support people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.
A number of charities and other organisations are working to tackle homelessness. For example, Crisis has 12 ‘Skylight centres’ across the UK which provide free advice from experts to help homeless people find homes, secure employment, and access health and wellbeing support. The charity also recruits over 11,000 volunteers to deliver food packages and help with temporary housing each Christmas. Another example is Shelter, a homelessness charity that provides free legal advice to people facing eviction and a free emergency helpline for those facing a housing crisis.
What you can do to help
Here are several 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 homeless people Centrepoint work with and help fund their life-changing work.
- Fundraise or donate to a homeless 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 homeless 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. If they are under the age of 1 8, please call the police.
Good stuff from elsewhere
How the arts help homeless youth heal and build’ - TED talk
End Youth Homelessness - a charity working with homeless young people
Depaul UK - charity empowering young people experiencing homelessness