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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.

Walk past a homeless person on the street and the assumption for many is that “they got there by their own doing”. The reality is often quite different.

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.

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 homeless.

Sometimes the problems that lead to homelessness come 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.

And larger social and economic problems can also cause homelessness. The Covid-19 pandemic’s disruption to the jobs market and economy threatens to cause rising homelessness. Chancellor Rishi Sunak estimated that it will cause an unemployment peak of 2.6 million people out of work while confirming that the economy had slumped 11.5 per cent during the 2020 Spending Review.

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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 the £20 Universal Credit increase to remain beyond October 2021 to help people pay rent.

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The main cause of homelessness remains the loss of private assured shorthold tenancy. In the latest statutory homelessness statistics for England 43,260 households required help from councils to avoid homelessness for this reason, amounting to 29 per cent of cases.

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 that: “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 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?

Based on Shelter’s estimate that 280,000 people are homeless in England and the most recent Office for National Statistics’ population count for the country, which estimates 56 million people live in the country, there is roughly a one in 20,000 chance of becoming homeless in England.

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 £370 million.

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 states is between five and 10 per cent.

Having a pet can give a boost to 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 first rather than their own.

The human-animal bond is something that we see every day from many Big Issue vendors and more efforts are being made to keep dogs and their humans together than ever before, particularly in homeless hostels..

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