When I was growing up, I’d often see people sleeping on the streets of various cities in the UK not realising how they ended up in that position. Once I found myself homeless and started speaking to others in the same situation, it hit me how easy becoming homeless really is.
There are so many reasons someone can end up with nowhere to live. These are some of the causes that seem more common, in my experience at least.
I don’t think trauma is talked about enough when we’re discussing homelessness. Trauma refers to events or experiences that are out of the ordinary in terms of how overwhelming they are. They are a lot more than stressful. Shocking, devastating and absolutely terrifying seem like more accurate descriptions. Traumatic events can result in feeling helpless and out of control, along with feelings of fear, terror and shame.
In a survey done by Evolve Housing, 79% of all participants who experienced homelessness had also experienced at least one trauma before the age of 18. Another 66% had suffered 3 or more traumas during their childhood.
Of the individuals who had experienced one or more traumas, 29% of these said that this was the main cause of their homelessness. This shows that a large number of people who are homeless have not been able to get the support they needed after experiencing trauma in order to process it properly.
This can, and will look very different for everyone:
- the death of a family member
- abuse or violence while growing up
- a life threatening injury/illness
- domestic violence
Everyone reacts differently to trauma.
Some people might throw themselves into work or hobbies to distract themselves, which may or may not work long term. Others will turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms. This means they help with immediate feelings but don’t deal with the root cause of that feeling. This could take the form of drugs, alcohol, self-harm, sex, binge eating or gambling. If these behaviours carry on for prolonged periods of time, they can lead to addiction.
A lot of the people I met when I was homeless had been through some form of trauma, just like me. And just like me, it led many of them to have mental health struggles in different forms: anxiety, depression, PTSD or eating disorders. These conditions can make it difficult to hold down a job, form healthy relationships and increase the likelihood of substance misuse.
All of these have been shown to increase the chances of homelessness.
Losing Your Job
The most obvious reason is losing your job. I don’t think people realise that in the United Kingdom, millions of people are only one paycheck away from losing their homes. They would not be able to pay the rent for more than a month if they were to lose their jobs. It takes five weeks to receive your first Universal Credit (state benefits) payment.
That’s five weeks with no income, which is enough time to get behind on rent, bills and other expenses. Although you can apply for an advanced payment, that is then taken out of the payments which follow. The amount a single person gets each month has just increased. If you are under 25 you can get up to £342.72, whereas if you are over 25 you can get £409.89, meaning two individuals with the same circumstances, just of a different age are entitled to different amounts. This works out at 29% of the average UK wage, to live on each month.
This is minimal compared to the welfare systems in other countries. In the US it is dependent on the state. In California, you can claim 50% of your average weekly earnings and in New York it is slightly higher. Similarly in France you receive 57% of your previous salary and in Germany it’s 60%; 67% if you have children.
Renting costs are considerably higher in the UK than the rest of Europe. Anyone who was previously working full time would be left short.
More than one in ten calls the police respond to in the UK are related to domestic violence. Until now, many of the women I have met on the streets in the North of England had been victims of domestic abuse. Since they “chose” to leave an abusive situation, they were therefore seen as making themselves “intentionally homeless”. As a result, they were not entitled to emergency accommodation.
Recently, after attending a conference, I met a lady who was sleeping rough. She had been on the streets for over a year after leaving her abusive partner. She had to leave, for her own safety and because she feared for her life if she stayed.
Because she left their shared flat, it was determined she made herself “intentionally homeless”. This meant there was no support for her, and she was left on the streets. She had no access to a mobile phone or the internet, and relied on people to buy her food. After a short stay in a hostel, which was mixed sex and extremely difficult for her to handle after being abused by a male, she moved to the streets where she felt safer.
The Domestic Abuse bill, which is going through parliament, will ‘‘place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refugees and other safe accommodation”. However, this still relies on the availability of social housing and places within refuges. It also will ensure tenancy agreements given to victims of domestic abuse are secure, lifelong tenancies to prevent homelessness in the future.