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Housing

How do people become homeless?

Every homeless person has a different journey, often harrowing and traumatic, and the reasons why people end up without a secure and stable home are myriad and diverse.

If you walk past someone experiencing homelessness on the street, chances are the reasons they ended up there are unique to them.

Every homeless person has a different journey, often harrowing and traumatic, and the reasons why people end up without a secure and stable home are myriad and diverse.

Often they can be completely out of the person’s control.

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What causes a person to become homeless?

Individual factors, such as a lack of qualifications, relationship breakdown or substance abuse, can lead to homelessness as well as family background issues like disputes, sexual and physical abuse from parents or guardians or a previous experience of family homelessness.

Sometimes the problems that lead to homelessness are systemic and have very little to do with an individual’s actions. A lack of support for those leaving care, the armed forces, prison or even hospital can leave someone with nowhere to go apart from the streets.

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And larger social and economic problems can also cause homelessness. Most of us have no say in some of the matters that impact on our lives but that doesn’t mean the impact of the cost of living crisis, for example, is no less devastating. 

A lack of affordable housing can also cause homelessness as can a benefit rate that doesn’t match the cost of private rents. That’s why housing charity Shelter has called for a social housing revolution to end Britain’s housing crisis while several charities and campaigners have called for housing benefit so people can afford a place to live.

The main cause of homelessness remains the loss of private assured shorthold tenancy. In the latest annual statutory homelessness statistics for England 25,710 households required councils to step in to prevent them becoming homeless after losing their private rented home.

And, of course, these figures just showed the amount of people who contacted councils, there are many more who do not appear in statistics. Hidden homelessness, commonly known as sofa surfing, describes people who do not have a home of their own and stay with friends or family instead.

Do people choose to be homeless?

On the whole, no one chooses to be homeless with the vast majority of people forced into homelessness either through personal or systemic problems.

However, a council can consider someone to be intentionally homeless under the Housing Act 1996. The act states: “People should take responsibility for their own accommodation needs and not behave in a way which might lead to the loss of their accommodation.”

Failing to do so can lead to someone with priority need being considered intentionally homeless and can see them “owed a lesser duty” by the council.

Entrenched homelessness can affect attitudes to homelessness. A long time spent on the streets can see people adapt to the lifestyle of being on the streets. This can be a particularly difficult habit to break.

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What are the chances of becoming homeless?

Crisis has estimated around 227,000 people are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness in England, including sleeping rough on the streets, sheltering in vans or sheds, or staying in B&Bs.

The most recent Office for National Statistics’ population count for the country found 56.5 million people live in the country, meaning roughly one in 250 people are homeless.

However just because those numbers seem large, it doesn’t mean that tackling homelessness is any less urgent. Homelessness can be devastating on a human level and costly financially too.

Charity Crisis looked into the cost of homelessness back in 2015. They found that, while costs vary depending on location, if 40,000 people were prevented from becoming homeless for one year in England it would save the public purse £370million.

Preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place is more effective than trying to lift people out of homelessness.

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Why do homeless people have dogs?

Dogs can be vital companions during a potentially lonely life on the streets. It is tough to know just how many people without a home live with pets, but an often-cited estimate from the US is between five and 10 per cent.

Having a pet can boost mental health, whether it be someone to talk to or to play with. They can also offer something to focus on – many people affected by homelessness might put their dog’s wellbeing before their own.

The human-animal bond is something The Big Issue sees every day in vendors across the country. In recent years, more efforts are being made to keep dogs and their humans together than ever before, particularly in homeless hostels.

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