A question one often asks is “What is the cause of homelessness? Why do people become homeless?” Well there isn’t a simple straight forward answer to any of these questions.
Homelessness is a problem that has recently come to light as a real social issue in the United Kingdom. Seeing a homeless person in major towns and cities in the UK has now become the ‘norm’ but it is still incredibly shocking that in the 21st Century, in a modern world country, we still have people living on our streets. Towards the end of last year, comedian, Russell Howard brought the issue to light in his show The Russell Howard Hour
Towards the end of every year in the autumn period, since 2010, every local authority in England is made to do a count by the Government Department, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The count is an annual event and allows local authorities to see changes in the population of homeless people living on our streets.
To be counted as homeless you have to meet a certain criteria when the count takes place. The government set a direct definiton of what is classed as being a rough sleeper. They define a rough sleeper as:
“People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes” which are makeshift shelters, often comprised of cardboard boxes).” (Source: Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2016, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government)
When local authorities are completing their counts they have to adhere to the goverment’s definition of rough sleeping, meaning that there are still some people that won’t meet the requirements and as such are left out of the count. This is because some people decide to sleep in very remote and discrete places (such as bushes and hedgerows) for their own peace of mind. It is important to remember that the figures submitted by undertaking an official count are only inclusive of rough sleepers and not the homeless community as a whole. Those living in temporary accomadation in B&Bs, hostels, sofa surfing and squatting aren’t counted.
Some of the statistics that can be pulled out of the 2016 count are that there were 4,134 people recorded to be rough sleeping in England with 509 (12%) of those people being female and a staggering 288 (7%) of those people being under the age of 25. The graphics below show some of the findings from the data.
(Source: Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2010, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government; Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2016, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government).
Today, 25th January 2018, the data for the 2017 count has been released by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Some of the statistics that can be pulled out of the 2017 count are that there were 4,751 people recorded to be rough sleeping in England, an increase of 617 (13%), with 653 (14%) of those people being female and 370 (8%) of those people being under the age of 25, including 3 people counted as under the age of 18.
Portsmouth saw an increase in it’s rough sleeper population from 37 in 2016 to 42 in 2017, an increase of 13.5% with an increase from 4 females in 2016 to 6 females in 2017, an increase of 33.3%. The number of rough sleepers under the age of 25 also rose from 0 in 2016 to 2 in 2017. No rough sleeper counted in Portsmouth was believed to be under the age of 18.
The graphics below show some of the findings from the data.
(Source: Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2010, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government; Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2016, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government; Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2017, for England. Dept for Communities and Local Government)
So, what is the cause of homelessness? Why do people become homeless? There is no one single reason as to why somebody becomes homeless. It is normally a multitude of factors that play a role. Findings from unofficial research carried out by Helping Hands Portsmouth found that common reasons were family breakdown at a young age, and sometimes a step-parent being on the scene and not getting on with the person at a young age. PTSD and mental health issues were among some of the other reasons as well as addiction, prison and disability.
The BBC produced an online article about the stories of some homeless people that live in coastal towns and cities, just like Portsmouth. The link can be found here. BBC South Today also interviewed some of the regions homeless to give them a chance to tell their stories. The link can be found here.
One of our core values here at Helping Hands Portsmouth is that we treat every person we meet on the streets with respect, compassion and dignity. We understand that everyone’s story as to why they are living on the street is different.
We ask that you don’t tar everyone with the same brush. The people living on our streets are human beings, just like you and I. Treat them with respect. Offering them a sandwich at lunchtime is so simple, yet you maybe the first person they’ve spoken to since lunchtime the day before.
All information used in this article has been sourced and details of sources have been given at the appropriate times. Data for the Rough Sleep Count in Portsmouth was obtained on 28th December 2017 by a Freedom of Information Act (2000) request to Portsmouth City Council. Helping Hands Portsmouth would like to thank Portsmouth City Council for their cooperation with the request.