Housing

So... why didn't the homeless just go home?

The very first Big Issue asked this question. Twenty-five years later, we ask it again to those on the frontline of homelessness provision

In 1991 the cover of the first edition of The Big Issue posed a stark and provocative question: “But why don’t the homeless just go home?” Nick Hardwick, then director of the charity for homeless young people Centrepoint, answered in an article identifying factors such as broken family relationships, a desperate shortage of cheap rented accommodation and meagre social security payments.

In the last 25 years great progress has been made in helping people up from the streets, raising public awareness of the problem of homelessness and challenging common misconceptions about the forces driving it.

But with rough sleeping and statutory homelessness still on the rise in the UK, plainly much more remains to be done. With that in mind, we asked people on the frontline of homelessness provision in the UK the same question again in 2016: why don’t the homeless just go home? Here’s how they responded.

The current housing crisis means the real problem is about where they go next

Paul Noblet
Head of Public Affairs at Centrepoint

“For most of the young people we support going home just isn’t an option. Often they have been forced to leave home because there has been some form of family breakdown, be that because of financial problems which mean a family can’t keep a young person at home, anger over a young person’s sexuality, or even domestic violence. A lot has changed in 25 years, and while Centrepoint’s mission to support homeless young people remains the same, homelessness is no longer just a problem of why those experiencing it can’t go back, the current housing crisis means the real problem is about where they go next.”

Jon Sparkes
Chief Executive at Crisis

“Homeless people can’t go home because there aren’t enough homes available to them. Even if there were, the law as it stands in England could still leave thousands out on our streets. Successive governments have failed to build the decent, affordable homes we so desperately need, while cuts to housing benefit have left even the cheapest rented flats out of reach for too many people. And homeless people in England can be turned away with little or no help by councils if they are not considered a ‘priority’, even if they have nowhere else to stay.”

The original feature, from the first Big Issue magazine in September 1991

Adam Lang
Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland

“Homelessness can happen to anyone and it is shocking and shameful that homelessness still exists today. At the root of the problem is the simple fact that there currently aren’t enough homes for people facing the tragedy of homelessness. Our new campaign in Scotland, Homelessness: Far From Fixed, aims to refocus attention on tackling homelessness. We want a safe and affordable home for everyone and help to be available for everyone to keep or find a home. We want a strong housing safety net to catch people if they do lose their home and we want a society where no one should ever have to sleep rough on the streets.”

We want a society where no one should ever have to sleep rough on the streets

Howard Sinclair
Chief Executive, St Mungo’s

“Because people who are homeless don’t have a home to return to. And while some may have a roof that’s not the same as a home. A home is somewhere safe, warm, personal. Our job is to provide the opportunity, and to help people (re)find the skills and resilience, to make their own home.”

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