Why do people become homeless?

At St Mungo’s, we work with each of our clients to understand the particular circumstances that led to them becoming homeless. While each person’s story is unique, there can be factors that can contribute to why people find themselves facing homelessness.

Personal problems that people experiencing homelessness often face

Many of the people we see have mental or physical health problems, or have issues with drug or alcohol use. Sometimes people face a complex mix of these factors, on top of more difficult family backgrounds than most.

Many people who become homeless had traumatic experiences during childhood. Sometimes it was sexual or physical abuse, other times it was an unstable environment, such as moving between foster homes. For some people, these experiences put them at risk from an early age. In fact, some people we work with say that their early experiences led them to become dependent on drugs or alcohol while still in their teens.

Research that we carried out in 2013 showed that 43% of people who slept rough for the first time had problems with alcohol or drug use. For some people that was a contributing factor to them becoming homeless; for others, it was a symptom of trying to cope with other problems that they faced.

Poor mental health is widespread among people who are homeless or sleeping rough. Over 40% of people we work with have a mental health issue. Many, however, may never have had access to adequate treatment or support.

We also work with people who may face adult literacy or numeracy barriers, who may feel unconfident in the skills they have to offer, or don't recognise the resilience and strengths they have.

Social issues that can contribute to people becoming homeless

Many of our clients also tell us that, alongside the personal issues they face, there have been social issues or changes that have contributed to them becoming homeless or not being able to access support. These could include:

  • Changes to housing costs and welfare reforms leading to homelessness
  • Availability of supported housing
  • Homelessness services having limited capacity to help.

These factors together can represent a real challenge for organisations seeking to help people facing homelessness.

Our 2016 report Stop the Scandal: an investigation into mental health and rough sleeping explores these issues more deeply.

Our work to end rough sleeping and rebuild lives

At St Mungo’s we believe that homelessness and rough sleeping aren’t inevitable. Through our recovery based approach, we help people experiencing homelessness on every step of their journey towards rebuilding their lives.

You can read more about the services we offer to help people move on from homelessness, towards fulfilling their hopes and ambitions.