You may have noticed in the lead up to Christmas 2017 an increasing prominence in the campaigns of charities for homelessness. The reason why recently became clear when it was revealed the homeless population of the UK currently numbers 300,000.
Crisis asked for people to donate to a Christmas appeal that would give a homeless person a bed for Christmas night and the sort of Christmas dinner the rest of us take for granted. Shelter focused on the number of families facing eviction. Most of us have preconceived notions about what homelessness is and what causes it, but the following facts may surprise you.
Rough Sleeping Men Vastly Outnumber Women
In a recent study, it was shown that rough sleepers in London have a 5.5:1 male gender bias. That means for every 2 women sleeping rough, there are 11 men. The national picture varies with a range from 71% male up to 85% male. Similar statistics reported from the USA show that potentially, homelessness is a gendered issue that adversely affects men and boys.
Homeless is not Just Rough Sleeping
Rough sleepers are what some call “the visible homeless”, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are far more people living in temporary accommodation such as hostels and night shelters while waiting for something permanent. Councils are obliged to house families with children and it can take many years for social housing (council homes and Housing Association) to become available. That means years moving from B&B to a hostel and then to a night shelter until something becomes available. Even somebody “sofa surfing” between friend’s and family’s homes are considered homeless.
There is an Over-Representation of LGBT
Whether living in hostels or on the streets, statistics suggest that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people are more likely to be homeless than any the straight community. Yet their individual needs are rarely met or even identified. When in a vulnerable position such as homelessness, they are likely to hide their identity from other homeless people out of fear that they would be attacked and even from care and social workers who they feel may judge them, especially where receiving help from religious organisations.
The Leading Cause of Homelessness Isn’t What You Think
The basic assumption is that people become homeless because of addiction (drugs and alcohol) but this is far from the truth. While alcoholism and drug use are high in the homeless population, these are often effects of homelessness and not causes. Homeless users of drugs and alcohol do so as a coping mechanism. The leading cause of homelessness today is the end of a tenancy and inability to find somewhere affordable to live. With skyrocketing rents and home ownership out of the reach of most young people, homelessness has only increased. The second leading cause of homelessness is the breakdown of a relationship.
Mental Illness is a Major Cause
The term “mental illness” is a broad brush covering depression, substance abuse, gambling addiction, PTSD and many others. What is clear is that those who have a mental illness are far more likely to be homeless than those who do not. Retired military personnel are much more likely to be homeless than those who never served. Those fleeing domestic abuse are also more likely to be homeless, those who recently suffered the death of a loved one and are struggling to get over it, those suffering medical problems that have changed their lives and the recently redundant.
What is clear is that homelessness affects the already-vulnerable more than it affects those who are not already in a vulnerable position.