How do people end up homeless?

We use the term homeless to describe those we see sleeping rough on the streets. Homelessness is a bigger issue than what we understand and the road to homelessness is not as simple as some of us might think.

How do people end up homeless?

When you think of someone being homeless, it’s likely your mind turns to people you see sleeping rough on the street or asking you for change. This stigma is not only outdated but unfair. Homelessness is the result of having no other option. No person would choose to live on the street, but circumstances sometimes leaves people with no other choice.

There are many different types of homelessness: sleeping rough is one of them, but there is such a thing as ‘hidden homelessness’. According to Streets of London, a homeless organisation, 7,500 people will find themselves sleeping rough in London alone. Although homelessness is a UK wide issue, London is one of the cities most affected. Of those 7,500 people, the majority of them are white men. Unfortunately, those 7,500 are only the tip of a very big iceberg, as over 400,000 people in London are affected by hidden homelessness.

Hidden homelessness involves people who have ended up couch-surfing, living in temporary accommodation, provided to them by their local councils, squatters or those who live in hostels. None of these living situations make it easy to live life as every person has to the right to. When facing any type of homelessness, there’s no guaranteed security. For example, those who have to sleep rough will get frequently moved on by the police, and those living in temporary accommodation have no guarantee of how long they will be there.

There is no one direct route to becoming homeless but there are some that are most common.

Landlords taking back their properties

Entering into a tenancy agreement with a landlord or a housing association is no guarantee that the property is yours for as long as you desire to live there; landlords can decide to take back their property. This could be to occupy it themselves or with family, or to sell on to another landlord. No matter the reason, the owner of the property is completely in their rights to do so- but where does that leave the occupants? If they are unable to find another property, and want their councils house, they will be advised to stay until the bailiffs come and remove them. If you leave before the property is seized, you have then made yourself intentionally homeless and will not be given help by the local authorities. If you do receive their help after making yourself intentionally homeless, you will not be a priority and the chances are you will spend months, even years in temporary housing.

Debt and financial hardship

In 2017, the average UK household debt had increased by 7% over the past five years. Whether it’s mortgages, car finance or council tax, debt in the UK is steadily on the rise and for some people, those debts lead to them losing everything and ending up homeless. With no network of support from friends or family, there is only so much debt consultancy agencies can accomplish.

As a result of government changes to people’s benefits, people in receipt of Universal Credit are finding it harder and harder to budget their money. Many are finding themselves worse off than when they were received Job Seekers Allowance or Income Support, for example. Universal Credit is a monthly sum, in which recipients are supposed to pay their rent, bills, food and anything else needed for that month. This differs to the weekly or bi weekly payment of JSA, IS or other benefits that have been replaced by Universal Credit. Universal Credit expects the average person under 25 to live off £251.77 a month. The amounts given vary based on circumstance but no one on universal credit will be in receipt of roughly more than £500 a month, including parents with children. Worse still, those moving from previous forms of welfare to Universal Credit can be waiting upto five weeks before receiving their first payment, with no benefits paid out in the meantime.

Returning to society

Those who have been in prison, or who have come back from service, and have to re-join society can find it very hard. It might be difficult for them to find employment, accommodation and, in general, get to grips with breaking out of pre-existing patterns of behaviour and adopting new daily routines. The stigma attached to both these societal groups, albeit different, hinders their transition back into society and many of them find themselves homeless as a result. Both groups could be suffering with underline trauma or a mental disorder that affects their ability to function within the norm. This a very common scenario amongst those released from prison or those back from the army as an example. Voice actually ran a series documenting the difficulties faced by a veteran adjusting to life outside of the army.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is one of the main causes for woman being made homeless, although domestic abuse does not discriminate. In order to escape a violent or emotionally abusive partner, many women see running away as the only option. This could be because they have no friends or family, the abuse has broken them down or broken their ability to trust, or the abuse has left them isolated and they no longer see friends or family as an option they can turn to. Sadly, when women turn to rough sleeping, abuse can still occur, in the form of sexual abuse or women may even turn to engaging in sexual acts as a way of survival.

As stated by Streets of London, “Once a person finds him/herself homeless and on the fringes of society, it is extremely difficult to get back into an everyday routine of secure housing and employment.”

Homelessness can affect anyone, and it does affect more groups of people than those mentioned above. It can affect those suffering from substance abuse, asylum seekers and refugees; the list goes on. Find ways in which you can get involved to let those people affected by such know that people out there do care.

Header Image Credit: Blodeuwedd


Saskia Calliste

Saskia Calliste Voice Team

Saskia is the Deputy Editor of Voice and has worked on campaigns such as International Women’s Day, Black History Month, and Anti-Bullying Week. Outside of Voice, Saskia is a published author (Hairvolution) and has guest featured in various other publications (The Women Writers’ Handbook/ Cosmopolitan/ The Highlight). She has a BA in Creative Writing and Journalism and an MA in Publishing. She is a mentor for Women of the World Global, has guest lectured at the University of Roehampton and has led seminars/panel talks on Race, Equality and Diversity. She was a 2022 Guest Judge for Dave (TV Channel) in search of the 'Joke of the Fringe'. She is 27-years-old, based in London, and loves to cook and explore new places in her spare time.

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  • Bee Snellen

    On 7 November 2018, 17:08 Bee Snellen Voice Team commented:

    Great article! I had no idea that hidden homelessness was so prevalent. Over the years I've noticed an increased number of rough sleepers in the city where I live. Apparently, some of them are forced to sleep rough as the shelters here fill up every night. There definitely should be more done about this.

  • David Pierce

    On 29 January 2021, 11:52 David Pierce commented:

    Thanks for sharing your views. There can be many reasons for being homeless like you discuss, but most of them fall into one of two categories:

    * Personal Reasons - job loss, relationship breakdown,

    * Mental Health - or structural reasons - affordable / lack of social housing, poverty, unemployment.

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