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Introduction to the Homelessness Campaign

“Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose


Most of us will have never fully appreciated the comfort, protection and warmth our homes provide for us. Good quality housing is considered a fundamental human right. It enables us to thrive, and ensures physical and mental wellbeing. Despite this, the number of people without a home in the UK continues to increase, and this poses a threat to their health and happiness.

Homelessness in the UK

As of 2018, it was estimated that just under 320,000 people in Great Britain were homeless, a figure which increased by 8.7% between 2016 and 2018 (Shelter, 2018). However, these numbers are likely to be an underestimate of the number of people truly affected. It is almost impossible to provide an exact number of people without a home, as so many remain undocumented.

Types of homelessness

The term homelessness is a broad term and often encompasses several types:

  • When individuals live on the streets it is referred to as rough sleeping.
  • Some people may have access to temporary accommodation e.g. shelters, hostels, B&Bs, refuges.
  • The majority of individuals are the hidden homeless. When people deal with their situation informally, they are often hidden from statistics and services. They could be staying with friends or family. This term can also be used to describe individuals living in unsafe or overcrowded housing such as squats.
  • Statutory homelessness includes individuals regarded as ‘in priority need’. Local authorities have a duty to secure a home for them, often because they are unintentionally homeless. For instance, this would include individuals affected by the Grenfell Tower fire that occurred in 2017.

Causes of homelessness

Contrary to common stereotypes, homelessness affects people from all walks of life. There are a multitude of reasons as to why someone may be homeless. The figure below, produced by Public Health England, displays some of the causes of homelessness organised by structural or individual factors.

Structural factors explore the wider economic and societal situations within which homelessness is likely. Individual factors focus on reasons why individuals may be more vulnerable to the impact of structural factors, and are at higher risk of being homeless. These factors often reinforce each other. For instance, individuals with mental health problems or poor physical health may find it difficult to find employment and therefore are unable to afford housing.

This shows how complex and varied people’s situations are, making the issue difficult to solve.

Who is vulnerable to homelessness?

The levels of homelessness in the UK varies according to cities and the local supply of housing, but there are also significant barriers faced by marginalised groups. BAME individuals, LGBQT+ and young people are at an increased risk of being homeless, as prejudice and discrimination mean that these individuals are more likely to be unemployed, or earn lower salaries. Therefore they are particularly affected by a lack of affordable housing.

Although it is illegal to discriminate by race, gender preference or sexual orientation, landlords are often able to select renters to live in their properties which can create obstacles for these groups of people (Shelter, 2017). Gender preference or sexual orientation may be the cause of people, particularly young people, being kicked out of family homes (Centrepoint, 2020).

The impact of homelessness

All aspects of our lives are protected by a safe home: our mental and physical health, work-life and education.

Bad weather, unsanitary conditions and a lack of nutrition can all cause several physical health problems, including serious respiratory conditions and infections.

Mental health issues can be a cause of homelessness, as well as a consequence. The isolation, stress and anxiety caused by their situation can have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health, and possibly be a route to substance abuse.

Those living on the streets are 17 times more likely to experience a form of violence or abuse (Crisis, 2016). Verbal, physical and sexual abuse pose yet another threat to the health of homeless people.

45% of homeless people report a long-term physical health condition, and the same proportion has a diagnosed mental health problem (Local Government Association, 2017), figures which are far greater than the general population.

The lack of a home, and the stability which it affords, is detrimental to a young person's education. If they fail to obtain qualifications as a result, they may struggle to find work, and the vicious circle of poverty and homelessness continues.

Homelessness and coronavirus

All local authorities in England and Wales were required to provide emergency accommodation to homeless people living on the streets, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This was essential, with rough sleepers being three times more likely to have a chronic health condition which can increase the risk of complications if they contract the virus.

The ongoing economic impact of the pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of job losses, whilst many people have been receiving reduced pay. In a country where “one in three working families are only one paycheque away from losing their home” (Shelter, 2016), the financial implications of the virus can be devastating.

The extension of the eviction ban until the 20th of September and the eviction notice requirement will protect households that are unable to pay their rent until March. However, if the government does not continue to renew this ban, many households are at risk of losing their homes.

Lockdown rules have forced victims of domestic abuse and violence to be confined with their abusers in their homes. For many victims, becoming homeless may be their only escape. To learn more about this, check out the now-u domestic abuse campaign.

How you can help

The negative stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding homelessness creates barriers and enables ‘othering’ whilst overlooking the social change needed to reduce the number of people at risk of being homeless.

Whilst homelessness in the UK is a very complex issue and cannot be eradicated by one solution, our aim is to increase awareness through our now-u app. By downloading our app, you can learn more about homelessness in the UK and join us in taking action. You can advocate for a change in housing policies, and learn about the NGOs and social enterprises dedicated to helping improve the situation of homeless individuals.

In order to help individuals affected by the virus, you can sign petitions to help support individuals at risk of being homeless. Our app also allows you to make donations to valuable charities such as Shelter and Crisis, who are helping to prevent homelessness and help individuals find safe accommodation during this difficult time.

Alternatively, you can support our campaign partner, the YMCA Downslink Group, by joining the Sleep Easy challenge and raising money to help provide accommodation and essential services for youth facing homelessness. These small but helpful actions can simply be done on your phone via our now-u app.

Download the now-u app today to support the homelessness community and join the fight for change.

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Midra Shanthikumar

A 4th year medical student interested in Global Health. Blogger for now-u. Spends most of her spare time on Netflix and studying (not out of choice). Always has a good documentary recommendation. Convinces herself she is a gym girl.

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Community Interest Company (12709184) and Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1196568)