Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Introduction to homelessness

In this final theme of the week, you’ll be introduced to three case studies about homelessness, particularly looking at the roles and responsibilities held by those who are working to tackle it in our local area.

Note: Remember that if this is one of the topics you want to focus on, you should be working in more depth, and perhaps even doing some further reading or research into this topic in your own local area. If this isn’t a topic you are focusing on, make sure you spend a little less time on each case study. Once you are familiar with the case study, and the main idea of what they are doing, you can mark the step as complete, and continue.

Thinking about 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” Shelter

As a society, we often think of water, food and shelter as basic human instincts. However, thousands upon thousands of people across the world are living without the shelter they need. Sleeping rough in the open air, on cold, hard concrete, in doorways, parks or bus shelters, and in buildings not designed for habitation such as car parks, sheds and derelict buildings, was the stark reality for an estimated 4,134 people sleeping rough in England in 2016 (Butler, 2017). This, really, is just an estimate. Many people who become homeless do not show up in official figures, and are considered ‘hidden homeless’ (Reeve, 2011). The vast majority of homeless people are families and single people who are not rough sleepers, and may live on the sofas of friends and family, in hostels or refuges, in bed and breakfasts or hotels. For many people, this means poor quality accommodation which can lead to a downturn in health and wellbeing, both mental and physical.

It’s difficult to get global data on homelessness, because of the different terminology used to define ‘homeless’, and the vastly different experiences of people living in different parts of the world. Here, we’ll focus on the UK, but why not look into the situation in other parts of the world, and see how the national and local problems compare?

The UK’s housing crisis

The housing crisis in the UK has been an increasing issue over the last five years. According to the Shelter, on average house prices are now almost seven times peoples’ incomes. Because of an increasing amount of people risking a mortgage, the number of houses repossessed in 2013 alone was up to 29,000. Bristol is a city dealing with the challenge of rising prices and housing shortages. Bristol’s Mayor, Marvin Reeves, is tackling the problem through new initiatives and by harnessing the “huge wave of goodwill and optimism from the vast majority of Bristolians”.

There are myriad reasons a person could become homeless, including personal circumstance and factors outside of the person’s control (see Wilson and Barton, 2017). According to Shelter (2017), 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.

There are many roles people can take in helping to alleviate homelessness that go further than giving someone a few spare pennies. Charities like Shelter, Crisis and St Mungo’s provide outreach, legal support, advice, guidance and education to those struggling with bad housing or who find themselves without a home to go to. They also campaign for change and work towards ending homelessness for good. The government and local councils also have a strategic role to play in terms of providing social housing and creating an infrastructure that supports the most vulnerable.

Over the next few steps, you’ll hear from three people working to tackle homelessness. From David Ingerslev who works for St Mungo’s, to senior lecturer Ailsa Cameron and Councillor Paul Smith, we will explore how the city of Bristol is trying to understand and solve the issue of homelessness.

When you’re watching the video case studies, look out for the specific roles people take towards bringing an end to homelessness, both in their local communities and on a global scale.

Butler, P. (2017). Number of rough sleepers in England rises for sixth successive year The Guardian, published online, 25 January 2017
Reeve, K. (2011). The hidden truth about homelessness: Experiences of single homelessness in England. Crisis, London
Shelter. (2017). What causes homelessness? Shelter, published online
Wilson, W. and Barton, C. (2017), Statutory Homelessness in England Briefing Paper Number 01164, House of Commons Library, published online 7 July 2017

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Sustainable Futures

University of Bristol

Contact FutureLearn for Support