What causes homelessness?

Sadly, many people view homelessness as the result of personal failings, and consider that if the economy is going well, there is no excuse for not getting on.

But this belief is belied by the facts, which show that homelessness is caused by a complex interplay between a person's individual circumstances and adverse 'structural' factors outside their direct control.

These problems can build up over years until the final crisis moment when a person becomes homeless.


Personal causes of homelessness

A number of different personal and social factors can contribute towards people becoming homeless. These may include one or more of the following:

  • individual factors including lack of qualifications, lack of social support, debts - especially mortgage or rent arrears, poor physical and mental health, relationship breakdown, and getting involved in crime at an early age
  • family background including family breakdown and disputes, sexual and physical abuse in childhood or adolescence, having parents with drug or alcohol problems, and previous experience of family homelessness
  • an institutional background including having been in care, the armed forces, or in prison.

Tackling these problems is a complex business and normally requires support from public bodies, friends and family, combined with a lot of hard work from the individual or family in trouble. Public support might include intervention, advice, counselling, training or provision of alternative accommodation by a local authority where appropriate.


Structural causes of homelessness

Structural causes of homelessness are social and economic in nature, and are often outside the control of the individual or family concerned. These may include:

  • unemployment
  • poverty
  • a lack of affordable housing
  • housing policies
  • the structure and administration of housing benefit
  • wider policy developments, such as the closure of long-stay psychiatric hospitals.

These problems require long-term policy solutions such as changes in the housing benefit system, the building of more affordable homes, and ensuring that a wider cross-section of society benefits from the fruits of economic growth.


reasons given by homeless people for being homeless 

The three main reasons for having lost a last settled home, given by applicants for homelessness support from local councils are:

  • parents, friends or relatives unwilling or unable to continue to accommodate them
  • relationship breakdown, including domestic violence
  • loss of an assured shorthold tenancy.

However, these reasons are only the catalysts that trigger people into seeking assistance, and not the underlying issues that have caused the crisis to build up in the first place.

For many people, there's no single event that results in sudden homelessness. Instead, homelessness is due to a number of unresolved problems building up over time.



Number of rough sleepers across England on a given night


In January 2017, the Department for Communities and Local Government released the autumn 2016 report on rough sleeping. These statistics provide a snapshot figure of the number of people every local authority estimates or counts to be sleeping rough on a single night. 

The report states: "We have found that homelessness is undoubtedly increasing. The most visible form of homelessness is rough sleeping, with people sleeping in and living on the street, in parks and in shop doorways. However, there is also a significant number of people who are homeless but are in temporary accommodation and night shelters, or rely on a series of short-term arrangements and the kindness of friends and family.”

Data shows homelessness has increased dramatically since 2011. In England, the proportion of people sleeping rough amounts to 0.16 per 1,000 households. This is up from 0.08 in 2011. Applications to local authorities for help with homelessness have also risen. In 2016, 27,803 applications were made. This is up from 21,317 in 2011.


Number of homelessness applications made to local authorities