Recent figures from local authorities show homelessness in England and Wales has risen 23% in a year.
Charities say rough sleeping is only one form of homelessness.
As homeless charity Crisis said: “Total numbers of homeless people in England are very difficult to calculate because of the transient nature of the homeless population and because the various forms of homelessness”.
The Shelter, another charity helping homeless people, said that there is a wide range of factors that contribute towards becoming a person homeless, such as drugs, alcohol, psychological problems, mental illness or relationship breakdown.
There are family reasons, for example family breakdown and disputes, sexual and physical abuse in childhood and adolescence, having parents with drug or alcohol problems, previous experience of family homelessness.
Last but not least social factors like unemployment, poverty, a lack of affordable housing, the structure and administration of housing benefit, the closure of long-stay psychiatric hospitals impair the problem of homelessness.
The Poverty Site confirms that the main reason for being homeless is either loss of accommodation provided by relatives or a relationship breakdown.
Research by the Consortium for Street Children says that the number of young people who are homeless are underestimated in the official statistics by 68%.
The research revealed that 100.000 children run away every year in the UK and that 21% of the British public think that young people sleeping rough are potential criminals. As a result only 10% of the people asked would feel that they must help.
After the publication of the last research that shows an extreme rise of rough sleeping many charities said that city councils should start helping all homeless people and not only those that they are obliged to help by law.
Crisis hosted a new campaign named “No one turned away” to make government strengthen the law in order no one to be forced to sleep rough and all homeless people to have the right to receive written advice, real assistance and emergency accommodation when they need it. The last research of Crisis showed that very often the homeless people receive not help at all as they are not considered to be “in priority need” by the local city councils.
According to the research of Communities and Local Government London is the city with the highest percentage of homelessness and the North West has the lowest incidence of homeless people per 1,000 households.
The response of Sheffield’s City Council
An Sheffield City Council employee who asked not to be identified said that the city council is obliged to find bed for every homeless person and that there is no limit in the number of beds.
When I mentioned that I spoke with homeless people and they told me that they were not given a bed even they had gone many times to the City Council’s Homeless Accommodation she said:
“It is not our duty to find an accommodation for everyone. It is our duty to find an accommodation for people that meet the criteria, for people that are in priority need by law”.
The criteria includes a person who is homeless or faces homelessness within 28 days, vulnerable people, people who can't access public services because of their immigration status, and people who have local links. You must also have lost your home through no fault of your own and that you have not become homeless intentionally.
All homeless people have to make an application. If the application is successful then they have the right to enter the Homeless Accommodation. There is information about the process and the criteria in the City Council’s website.
The homeless peoples’ response
Jack is a 42-year-old homeless man. He is British but he did not want to say anything about his personal life and where he comes from. He refused to reveal his surname.
“I live in a car park. There are no beds in the City Council’s Homeless Accommodation. I will go again to ask them. However I find food almost every day from the Cathedral’s Archer Project”.
He said that he is homeless because he has been unemployed for a long time and he faces health problems caused by alcoholism and depression.
Another homeless man, an immigrant in his 50s who does not speak good English said that he sleeps in the train station or in friends. He added that he has 16 friends in Sheffield that live in the same way.
“The city council said that they will probably find me a place to live but they have to check my papers and where I live. So until now I eat at Cathedral and sleep wherever I find. I am waiting for the council’s reply”.
The Cathedral Archer Project helps adult homeless and vulnerable people in Sheffield to find a way in order to escape from social exclusion.
Tracy Viner, member of the project said: “The problem is wider than it seems. These people do not only need food and clothes.
"They need something to build their self-esteem again from scratch. When you live in the streets your confidence and self-esteem is destroyed. So, we try to help them to believe in their selves again and slowly but surely go out to live their lives. However this is not always possible. Most of them come from abusive families or were neglected by their parents and have a long history of homelessness”.
In the Cathedral project there are two people who have managed to arrive in the last level of “development”. In this level the project gives references and tries to find them work placements.
Sheffield’s youth homelessness
Roundabout is a charity in Sheffield responsible for homeless young people.
Ben Keegan, project director said “We work with young people from the local area that have a housing need. Most of them had a dispute with their parents or other family members. Sometimes they come from abusive families. Usually we try to build links with the families”.
There is a program for volunteers starting in the following months. People interested on volunteering should check the website of the organization.
Rag is a charity of the University of Sheffield that raises and gives money to non- profit organisations that help homeless people. The organisations have to make an application between 4th August and 15th September.
Claire Haines, RAG Charities Officer said: “In Sheffield there are loads of organizations working for homeless people but still there is a big issue. The public sector helps but I think that the organizations dedicated to homelessness do the most. Maybe it’s because the public sector has to deal with many other contentious problems at the same time”.
Most of the people I asked do not trust homeless people. Of course I did not conduct any scientific research but from the 30 people I asked 16 said that maybe they would help a homeless person and 9 said no.
The reason they are afraid to help is that they believe that most of the homeless people will use the money to buy either drugs or alcohol.
The most common answer I received was “I don’t trust them”, “I am afraid” or “Why don’t they work?”. Most of them have never thought to contribute to any charity related to homelessness but they contribute to charities for orphans, protection of the environment and recycling. Or at least that’s what they told me.
However most of them supported that the public sector should take care of them with the help of experts who know what these people need.
Like Ann said, a 22-year old student says: “Personally I do not know how to help them but I think that is why the homeless accommodations exist. The public sector should find them a shelter and help them gradually to return to a normal life”.