Single people falling through cracks into years of homelessness

11 May 2011

Local councils are failing to help single people find a home, allowing thousands of people to fall through the cracks into years of homelessness, says a new research report from Crisis.

The hidden truth about homelessness highlights shocking interviews from 11 towns and cities (1) across England with individuals whose lives spiralled into years of despair after receiving little or no help from their local council.

The research found that it was not just people who suffered from long-term problems such as mental health issues or drug and alcohol abuse that had been homeless for years. Those who had lived stable lives but lost their home due to relationship breakdown or job loss were also homeless for years at a time because they didn't get the help they needed when they first approached their local authority for help.

Now Crisis is calling on local councils to face up to their responsibilities for single homeless people and is urging central government to add new measures to the Localism Bill currently passing through Parliament. (2)

The hidden truth team from Sheffield Hallam University heard some desperate stories from the people interviewed during their research:

Chris: "I went to the homeless place, see if they'd put me in a hostel or something. They gave me a ‘starter pack' and just kicked me out the door. They are supposed to be there to help the homeless, all they did was give me a booklet which I can't read.  Squatting's affecting me now. I'm a chronic asthmatic...it's always dusty, I find it hard to breath." [See (3) in Notes to Editors for more case studies]

The research also revealed that the hostel system was failing to help many homeless people. For every month interview respondents had (collectively) spent in formal provision such as hostels, they had spent over three months sleeping rough, in squats, with friends or in other hidden situations. 39% of respondents had squatted and at worst had committed a crime, engaged in sex work or unwanted sexual relationships or shown up at A&E just to get a roof over their head.

Crisis Chief Executive Leslie Morphy said: "Single people are already at the back of the housing queue, but local councils do have a duty to provide advice and assistance. Time and again we see that this is just not happening and the results are shocking.

"Thousands of people are falling through these cracks in support and suffering years of homelessness while their health, both mental and physical, declines rapidly.

"Many of the people surveyed for the research were hidden out of sight in appalling conditions including squats without heat, light or running water."

Unless single people are judged particularly vulnerable and in ‘priority need' [2] local councils have no obligation to find accommodation for them.

However, local authorities do have a statutory duty to provide ‘advice and assistance' to everybody who approaches them as homeless. In this research Crisis found:

  •  A third of respondents surveyed did not get to see a council advisor for help
  • Others were given unhelpful advice (31% reported the assistance they received had been ‘useless' and 12% ‘unhelpful')
  • People were signposted to already full hostels or places they were ineligible to access due to age restrictions or local connection reasons
  • People were given written material that was useless to the homeless person as they could not read
  • Due to previous negative experiences or not knowing their entitlements, many people do not approach their local authority at all

Dr Kesia Reeve, from Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), who led the research team, added: "We hope that the research has drawn attention to the issue of hidden homeless and the extent to which many single homeless people are effectively being left to fend for themselves". (4)

Crisis is also calling on the government to rethink plans to cut benefits, especially its plans to extend the age limit on shared accommodation to 35, that could see up to 80,000 people at risk of homelessness as their housing benefit is cut.

The charity has warned that Government cuts to local authority budgets will make the current situation even worse. The Supporting People budget, which provides housing related support to vulnerable people including those who are homeless, has been cut but up to 60% for some local authorities and this will have an impact on services for homeless people.

Ends

For further media information or to request an interview, please contact Garry Lemon at Crisis on 020 7426 3880 or garry.lemon@crisis.org.uk

Notes to editors

Link to full research, The hidden truth about homelessness

[1] Cities surveyed in the research are: London, Birmingham, Oxford, Stockport, Newcastle, Blackpool, Manchester, Southampton, Newton Abbot, Sheffield and Brighton.

[2] The Localism Bill has completed its Committee Stage in the House of Commons and is awaiting Report Stage. Among other things the Bill will weaken the duties that local authorities have to house homeless people in ‘priority need' - primarily households with children but also those deemed especially vulnerable - by allowing them to be housed in private rented accommodation even if they would prefer a social home.

Most single homeless people are not considered to be in ‘priority need' and are only entitled to ‘advice and assistance' - too often this means they get little or no meaningful help. Crisis believes that the Localism Bill represents a key opportunity to improve the help given to single homeless people and that this could include removing the distinction between those who are in ‘priority need' and those who are not. This and other measures could help those single homeless people that the hidden truth about homelessness research has shown are currently being failed by local authorities. 

[3] Case studies

Harvey: "I tried to get in a hostel but they said I was too young...you had to be over 24, things like that, and I was 16 so I was sleeping rough in the wheelie bin. It was hard, drugs was like to keep out the cold, coz I weren't a drinker and it was like a comfort blanket."

Marie, aged 55, approached her local authority and made a homelessness application but was told she was not in priority need. Marie had very little money, no prior experience of homelessness, no family nearby and no knowledge of hostels and other homelessness services so she started sleeping in a local park. "I haven't got family down here and I was literally on the streets. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know where to go".

[4] Dr Kesia Reeve, from Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), who led the research team, added: "We hope this research has revealed that to be single and homeless in England is to be hidden.

"The majority of the single homeless people who participated in this research were living outside the system of support which exists for homeless people.

"They weren't entitled to housing under the terms of the homelessness legislation, they weren't given adequate advice by the local authority, the hostels were full or they didn't meet the criteria, and they weren't engaged with support services.

"Instead, many spent significant periods of time sleeping rough, in squats or with friends. And this includes some very vulnerable people such as teenagers, care leavers and those with mental and physical health problems.

"We hope that the research has drawn attention to the issue of hidden homeless and the extent to which many single homeless people are effectively being left to fend for themselves".

Statistics from research

  • 76 per cent of hidden homeless people surveyed had slept rough, with 59 per cent for sustained periods of more than a month and 31 per cent for more than six months. It was more common for survey respondents to have slept rough than to have stayed in any other temporary or permanent housing situation. The average age of death for a rough sleeper is 42 years (from earlier Crisis research)
  • 39 per cent of survey respondents had resorted to squatting at some point in their homelessness careers.

Background on Crisis

Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people. We are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Our innovative education, employment, housing and well-being services address individual needs and help people to transform their lives. We are determined campaigners, working to prevent people from becoming homeless and advocating solutions informed by research and our direct experience.

 

Background on CRESR

CRESR, a research centre at Sheffield Hallam University, is one of the UKs leading multi disciplinary economic and social policy research centres. Since our creation in 1990, we have developed an impressive and diverse research portfolio resulting in a strong reputation for research excellence, scholarship and academic publication. Our research focuses on issues of social and economic disadvantage as experienced by individuals, groups and geographic areas - including causes and policy responses to such disadvantage.  The Housing Team in CRESR is one of the largest groupings of housing researchers in the country.

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