Half of all homeless people first become homeless aged under 21, with the majority going through the experience again and again because they don’t get the help they need, new research has revealed.
Conducted by Cardiff University for homelessness charity Crisis, the study is the first ever profile of single homeless people across England, Wales and Scotland, showing the reasons people first become homeless and the horrific consequences for their lives.
The research found that people who become homeless at a young age often face a vicious cycle that leaves them vulnerable to violence, substance abuse and problems with mental and physical health.
Drawing on interviews with 480 single homeless people from across England, Wales and Scotland, the report discovered that:
• On average people first become homeless at just 22, with half (48%) aged under 21, and one third (34%) aged under-18 when they first become homeless. Two thirds of those who become homeless when under-16 go on to face five or more episodes.
Simon: “Dad got progressively worse and then was put into institutions and I was sort of, you know, left to my own devices age 14 onwards. It was at that point that I got involved with drugs and became very quickly an addict.”
• 60% of homeless people first become homeless after a household dispute, a third of which are violent.
Jean: “When I was 16 my parents couldn’t live with me anymore. I left because of a family breakdown. My dad drank and there were arguments constantly.”
• Nearly one in four homeless people have experienced violence or abuse from family or friends, while one in five have experienced violence or abuse from a partner.
• 61% of homeless women have experienced violence or abuse from a partner.
“I got into a relationship with a guy and it all went downhill and unfortunately he ended up quite abusive, and I ended up not being able to go to work because I’d be looking a state, you know, looking horrible…”
• Nearly half of all homeless people have had problems with mental health.
Jacob: “I started off sleeping on the streets there until eventually I got myself into a hostel. I was used to it but… even to this day, I ended up getting really depressed through it. Because it’s not something that you want to do, it’s not a happy thing to happen.”
• Where people had recently gone to their council for help, nearly two thirds received either no advice, only general advice or were referred elsewhere.
Chris: The council basically want nothing to do with me. I gave them a letter from my doctor about my mental health; I gave them everything and they basically said that there’s nothing that they can do.
• 10% of homeless people have never had a permanent home in their adult life.
The report's author, Dr Peter Mackie, said: “This report is the first since devolution to reveal the real differences in people's experiences of homelessness and of seeking help. Whilst the assistance in Scotland is clearly better than anywhere else, it is worrying that across Great Britain we are failing to assist the vast majority of single people who become homeless. If we want to prevent problems from growing for these people and of course for wider society, we must make assistance available to all homeless people.”
The charity’s Christmas centres are run by an army of more than 9,000 volunteers. As well as warmth, companionship and three hot meals a day, guests receive healthcare and specialist advice on housing, work and benefits and are encouraged to take up the life-changing opportunities on offer at Crisis in centres across the country in the New Year ahead.
Jon Sparkes, Crisis' chief executive, said: “Homelessness is a horrifying experience for anyone, but it is especially damaging for young people, who often become homeless again and again because they can’t get the help they need. This is a tragic waste of young lives. We need to make sure people can get help at an early stage.
“Everyone deserves a second chance. Yet the sad reality is that homeless people who ask their councils for help are being turned away to sleep on the streets. That’s why Crisis is calling on party leaders to review the support given to single homeless people under the law. In this day and age, no one should face the horrors of the streets.”