Activism

Why do rough sleepers return to the streets?

One in six people seen sleeping rough in the capital throughout 2017 and into this year had returned to the streets after a gap of at least one year

Homeless man on bench

London recently saw a dip in the number of people sleeping rough for the first time in a decade – but hidden amongst those figures was an eight per cent increase in people returning to the streets after time away.

Homelessness charity St Mungo’s found almost one in six people seen sleeping rough in the capital throughout 2017 and into this year had returned to the streets after a gap of at least one year, a total of 1,119 individuals.

This is the highest number and highest proportion of people returning to rough sleeping after some time away since this measure was first recorded on the CHAIN database of rough sleeping in London in 2005.

But why would people return to the streets after time away? The ‘On My Own Two Feet’ report from St Mungo’s was researched and written by a group who have their own experience of homelessness.

The report found various push and pull factors were contributing to repeat rough sleeping.

Push and pull

For rough sleepers, push factors include being asked or forced to leave accommodation, choosing to leave unsuitable accommodation, and rules such as not allowing couples, pets or excessive demands.While these factors are usually not enough on their own to cause a person to leave, they grow and multiply over time to have a larger impact on a decision to leave accommodation and return to the street.

Pull factors include feeling competent in survival on the streets (compared to feeling incompetent to managing a tenancy), feeling ‘addicted’ to the streets, and boredom and loneliness in a tenancy compared to living with a sense of community on the streets.

Together the push and pull factors can exert a pressure to return to rough sleeping, with research showing respondents feel there’s no other alternative.

But it’s not by any means all down to the individual. Holes in safety nets are resulting in people not being able to maintain life without sleeping rough, too.

A lack of support and resources in dealing with trauma or unmet health needs, difficulties maintaining a tenancy and a lack of knowledge and support with this can all lead to returning to rough sleeping, with one respondent to the St Mungo’s report even claiming “the streets have everything I need.”

For rough sleeping solutions to work, there needs to be a stronger understanding of the factors that lead to repeat rough sleepers.

The Big Issue magazine launched in 1991 in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London, by offering people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income through selling a magazine to the public. Twenty-five years on, our vendors come from a variety of backgrounds and face the myriad of problems associated with poverty and inequality.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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