No one chooses to become homeless. People become homeless for many different reasons, like unemployment, poverty and lack of affordable homes. Then, there are circumstances, such as leaving care, the armed forces, prison or even hospital with no home to go to and no support. Escaping an abusive relationship can often lead to homelessness. And life’s turns can affect any one of us: losing a job, mental or physical problems, a relationship breaking down or substance misuse.  

We know that there are many factors contributing to homelessness, and that anyone could find themselves in that position. But we also know that some groups are more vulnerable to experiencing homelessness than others. For example, young people, people in the LGBT+ community, prison-leavers, care-leavers, people with mental ill-health, may be more likely to face homelessness than others.   

Before we get started

Before we get started

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Risk of homelessness in the UK

Risk of homelessness in the UK

While we know that anyone can face the risk of homelessness, there are also some groups who are more at risk, or more likely experience certain “types” of homelessness. For example, women are much more likely to experience “hidden homelessness”, partially as a response to the risk of danger they are faced with. And, being part of the LGBT+ community may mean that you are at an increased risk of homelessness, as our Frontline Fund akt, who work specifically with LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25, have identified that 24% of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+. 

Who is most at risk of homelessness? 

It is impossible to say which group, if any, is most at risk of homelessness. This is because in every individual’s life, there are multiple sets of circumstances, experiences and identities that intersect. And these things may affect people in different ways. We will however look at some factors that may increase the risk, including: 

  • Mental health 
  • Migration status 
  • Gender 
  • LGBTQ+ 
  • Youth

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Women and homelessness

Women and homelessness

We know that women are under-represented in rough sleeping statistics and provision, yet research, lived experience and the experiences of services tell us that women are some of the most vulnerable within the rough sleeping population. Our funded partner, The Connection at St Martin’s, co-delivered a women’s rough sleeping census to find out more about the issue of women and homelessness. Through this census, we know not only do women experience “hidden” forms of homelessness more frequently (sofa-surfing, etc), they also frequently stay hidden while rough sleeping. This means that to many, the rates of women experiencing homelessness seem lower than they are. 

There is a strong link between domestic abuse and homelessness. Domestic violence refers not only to physical abuse, but psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse, as well. Basis, our local frontline network partner in Leeds, reported in February 2021 that, for women in their city, domestic abuse is one of the most frequent triggers for homelessness. In Scotland, domestic abuse is the main cause of women’s homelessness – according to the Scottish Government Homelessness Statistics Equalities breakdown 2020-21. Our own UK-wide data demonstrates the link between domestic abuse and women’s homelessness. During an 18-month period in 2021-2022, around 33% of women who applied to our Vicar’s Relief Fund were ‘fleeing domestic abuse’. This is a considerably higher proportion than those in the general population who experience domestic violence since, according to the ONS, around 7% of women in England and Wales experienced domestic violence in 2021-22.  

The impact of this experience and the trauma it causes cannot be overstated. The combination of these factors can result in developing addiction, mental health issues and marginalisation during homelessness, making it even harder to find stability and break the cycles of homelessness.    

People fleeing domestic violence are entitled to priority homelessness support from their local council. Unfortunately, our partners on the ground report this is not always the case. For example, people who are not entitled to support from the government because of their migration status, are unable to access this kind of support. 

Avoiding homelessness can also put women at risk of domestic violence. Women often cite safety concerns as their reason for avoiding sleeping on the streets. However, alternative arrangements often mean alternative risks. Some will stay in unsafe homes with violent partners. One participant in a study by Basis and Homeless link said: “I’d rather take a beating from a man than go back to homelessness […] then you end up staying with someone and it’s not safe, and you get beaten anyway”. 

At St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity we are able to support women experiencing homelessness through our Vicar’s Relief Fund. In 2023, more than half of applications to our emergency Vicar’s Relief Fund were on behalf of women, many of whom are invisible to the system. Trapped in unsafe, abusive and often exploitative housing with violent perpetrators, they are either financially, emotionally or practically unable to extricate themselves on their own. This includes women like Gail* and Zara*, who were both supported into safety via a VRF grant provided through West Mercia Women’s Aid. We also support women facing homelessness through our Training Fund, Frontline Network and our funded organizations. Find out more about this work, here 

Migrant homelessness

Migrant homelessness

Migration status can increase someone’s risk of homelessness. Housing shortages are often blamed on migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – but these groups of people are often less likely to receive support than people born in the UK. According to the Chartered Institute of Housing: 

  • New migrants arriving in the UK aren’t eligible for social housing except in very limited circumstances (e.g. a spouse forced to leave home because of domestic violence). Most people who come to the UK on visas to work or study have ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) and can’t receive benefits or get help with their housing. 
  • People who apply for asylum get very limited help from the state. If they are ‘destitute’ they get free accommodation, now provided by private companies and normally in older properties leased from landlords. They can’t get council housing nor are they allowed to work. They get just £40 per week to pay for food and all their expenses. 

One of the contributing risk factors for many non-UK nationals who have made their home here is the restrictions they face on the support they can access because of their immigration status. This includes people who have the right to live and work in the UK. 

This means that unexpected events, like illness or losing a job, can leave people without financial support to help cover essentials like food and rent. This can push people into homelessness. 

Our Frontline Network Partner, Praxis, works to support migrants and refugees. Praxis is an award-winning human rights charity fighting for migrant rights since 1983. They give advice, provide support, and campaign so that migrants and refugees in the UK can live with safety, dignity and respect. The Pan-London Migrant Frontline Network has been facilitated by Praxis since 2016. 

The Network offers support to frontline staff who work with people experiencing homelessness in London related to immigration status. The Pan-London Migrant Frontline Network facilitates quarterly events, which provide a regular opportunity to bring together frontline workers in London to network, share expertise, and experience, and link to decision makers. 

Through our Frontline Fund, we also support migrants, refugees and asylum seekers facing homelessness by funding the Pathway Legal Advice Project. This collaboration with the UK’s leading homeless and inclusion health charity, Pathway, provides access to vital housing and immigration advice for hospital patients who are experiencing homelessness. Specialist legal advice providers have dealt with over 250 enquiries or legal cases to date. 

People experiencing homelessness face a range of challenges accessing health, care and other support needs. Pathway’s experience shows that a high proportion of homeless patients have prominent and complex legal issues around immigration. Instances of NRPF are also higher in this population, particularly in London. The vast majority of homeless patients would not be able to access legal advice in any other way. Using their hospital admission is a unique opportunity to link people up to expert legal advice. 

Brokering access to accommodation is shown to provide the stability and security needed to address mental health issues, addictions and chronic health conditions. Access to accommodation can be complicated by questions around immigration status, especially if an individual has NRPF. Partnerships between Pathway teams and legal advice providers have shown there is still a need for this type of intervention to serve our most vulnerable and destitute individuals. There is a strong need to challenge decisions or strengthen the advice or advocacy provided on immigration and housing to ensure homeless patients’ rights are being upheld. 

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Young people and homelessness

Young people and homelessness

According to Centrepoint, a leading youth homelessness charity, the number of young people who said they were homeless, or about to become homeless, has risen by nearly 7,000 in the last year. Research found that 135,800 young people aged 16-24 told their local council they were homeless in 2022-23, up from 129,000 the year before – a rise of 6,800. That is around 372 per day, and a new person facing homelessness every four minutes.  

Young people can be more at risk of homelessness for various reasons. According to Centrepoint, some of the causes of youth homelessness include: 

  • Family breakdown – Around six in 10 young people who come to Centrepoint say they had to leave home because of arguments, relationship breakdown or being told to leave. 
  • Physical and mental health – More than a third of young people who come to Centrepoint have a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, and another third are tackling issues with substance misuse. 
  • Exclusion from school – Not being in education can make it far more difficult for young people to access help with problems at home or health issues. Missing out on formal education can also make it more difficult for them to move into work. 
  • Leaving care – More than a quarter of young people at Centrepoint have been in care. Traumas faced in early life makes care leavers some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities. 
  • Refugees – Around 14 per cent of young people at Centrepoint are refugees. After being granted asylum, young people sometimes find themselves with nowhere to go and end up on the streets. 
  • Gang Crime – Homeless young people are often affected by gang-related problems. In some cases, it becomes too dangerous to stay in their local area, meaning they can end up homeless. 

There is also a link between difficult childhood experiences and the likelihood that someone will experience homelessness. Research shows that 85% of those accessing homelessness services reported experiencing adversity in childhood. Trauma in childhood can impact a child’s development, leading to neurological, psychological, emotional and social impacts. All of these things can increase the risk of experiencing homelessness later in life.  

St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity are working toward tackling youth homelessness by funding three specific projects that work with young people experiencing homelessness through our Frontline Fundakt’s trans pathway in Manchester, TGP Cymru’s Team Around the Tenancy, and Caring in Bristol’s Project Z. These organisations can provide further information on the support they offer to young people to guide them away from homelessness. 

LGBT homelessness

LGBT homelessness

There is a link between homelessness and people who identify as LGBTQ+. Our Frontline Fund partner, akt, work specifically with LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 – and their research shows that 24% of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+. Coming out as LGBTQ+ can lead to homelessness for young people, and once homeless, LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to face violence and discrimination than young people who aren’t LGBTQ+. They’re also more likely to develop substance misuse issues and experience sexual exploitation. For more information of the issue, check out akt’s report. 

In addition, transgender individuals are disproportionately affected by homelessness, one in four trans+ people (25%) have experienced homelessness in their lives (Stonewall, 2018). Trans+ people often face higher levels of discrimination, violence, and limited access to supportive resources.  

This is why we fund akt’s Trans Pathway Project, a 3-year pilot project in association with leading LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, akt. It is currently the only highly specialised support service of this sort to exist in the UK and has supported 72 trans+ young people facing homelessness to date. akt knows that trans+ people often face additional barriers to accessing support with housing and homelessness. Trans Pathway’s aim is not to provide a segregated service, but rather, through advocacy, to improve trans inclusion in mainstream services and increase the options available for trans and non-binary young people in Greater Manchester. 

Some of the additional barriers trans+ people at risk of homelessness often face include: 

  • Lack of knowledge about supporting trans+ people and/or transphobia from staff, residents or service users. 
  • Difficulty accessing ID and housing documents in the correct name. 
  • Exclusion from gendered accommodation and services and a lack of LGBTQ+ specific accommodation and services 
  • Needing to stay in a particular area to access trans affirming care 
  • Young people being unaware they are eligible for support and/or overlooked by services because they are hidden homeless, including sofa surfing, living in an unfit home or with an abusive partner, or engaging in survival sex work. 
  • Experiences of exclusion are intensified for multiply marginalised people, such as trans and intersex people of colour, women, refugees and asylum seekers, and people with disabilities. 

For more information on this, check out our guest blog by Frontline Fund partner akt, and our spotlight on the partnership 

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Mental health and homelessness

Mental health and homelessness

There is a clear link between mental health and homelessness. According to Crisis, 45% of people experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. This rises to 8 out of 10 people who are sleeping rough. Poor mental health is both a cause and consequence of homelessness. For example, the onset of mental illness can trigger, or be part of, a series of events that can lead someone being forced into homelessness. 

Furthermore, housing insecurity and homelessness is stressful and can exacerbate or cause mental health problems. This means that there is a higher rate of mental health problems amongst people without a home compared with the general population. 

We also know that despite the high proportion of mental health issues within the population of people experiencing homelessness, it is often difficult to access support for mental health issues. That’s why we decided to address this issue by offering funding to charities working in the area of mental health and homelesssness.  

For years, our annual Frontline Worker Survey has consistently shown that there is a need to improve access to mental health support for people experiencing homelessness. This is vital to help people secure and keep a safe place to live. In 2022, 75% of frontline staff described accessing mental health support for people they worked with as ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.  

As a result, we called for insights on this topic at the beginning of 2023. Thanks to frontline workers and organisations who sent in their views, key areas for improvement were pinpointed, such as the need for more outreach to connect with people, more preventative work, or improving capacity in services. As a frontline worker said: “Some of the service users with mental health issues are deemed as not engaging but the support provided has not built a relationship to understand the person.”  

It also became evident that there are times when mental health support is most needed in people’s housing journey, with an emphasis on early intervention, and transition points such as moving-in or moving-on from support or accommodation. A frontline worker stated: “Often people are asked to move services, and this requires people to build new relationships and retell their story. We often find people slip through the cracks here and return to services that they trust but from which they may no longer be able to access support.”  

Using this insight from the frontline, we made up to £600,000 available over three years and, following a competitive application process, awarded funding to the following projects:   

  • Rowan Alba’s Psychology in Hostels, in Edinburgh, a project that will embed a clinical psychologist in two supported accommodation homes to deliver targeted mental health support to 45 people with long-term experience of homelessness and trauma. The project will fill a gap that currently exists in the provision of psychological care to people who have experienced trauma and homelessness in Edinburgh, prevent repeat homelessness, and reduce demands on other services such as health or housing.  
  • MAC-UK and Look Ahead’s Mental Health and Homelessness partnership, in London and Kent, a project that provides an integrated team of psychologists, practitioners, youth workers, and academics in two of Look Ahead’s intensive support accommodation services for young people aged 16-25. This will directly support 100 young people and provide a better understanding of the barriers they face in accessing mental health services, which can be used to inform better policy and practice.  
  • Platfform’s Community Coaching, in Cardiff and Newport, a one-to-one coaching support project for people transitioning from two 24-hour staffed mental health crisis houses, back into the community. The support offered includes advocacy and connection to relevant services and community resources. This project will provide follow on support for people after a mental health crisis who are often returning to the same circumstances they left.
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