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What is homelessness?
The first thing people think about when it comes to homelessness is those sleeping rough on the streets, but rough sleeping is just one part of the story. Though some of the people we help at Wirral Ark may have had to sleep on the streets at some point, there are many other situations where they can find themselves without a permanent, secure roof over their heads.
A home is not just a physical space. A home provides roots, identity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional well-being. Homelessness is about the loss of all of these. It is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.
Many of the people who access our service may have been staying with friends or relatives on a temporary basis, otherwise known as ‘sofa-surfing’. They do not have the security of knowing that they have permanent home to go to, and eventually with all options exhausted, they have no-one left to turn to.
Why do people become homeless?
People become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons and solving homelessness is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads. Many homeless people face a number of issues in addition to, but often compounded by, their homelessness. The isolation and destructive nature of homelessness means that homeless people find it difficult to access the help they need.
One of the major causes of homelessness is the breakdown of family relationships. While family relationship breakdown is the most common cause of homelessness, many other issues such as unemployment, debts and health problems also contribute to the problem.
Many people are at significant risk of homelessness through losing their accommodation. This can be for a number of different reasons such as rent arrears, illness or unemployment. Some are still living with family or friends but they are vulnerable due to on-going issues within their families or a breakdown in a relationship, which may ultimately result in them becoming homeless.
What is the impact of homelessness?
Not having a home can make it difficult for individuals to find a job, stay healthy and maintain relationships. With people often experiencing feelings of isolation, homelessness can also increase the chances of taking drugs or experiencing physical or mental health problems. The longer someone is in this position the more difficult it can become to get back on his or her feet. As someone’s problems become more complex, anti-social behaviour, involvement with the criminal justice system and acute NHS services become more likely.
The wider impact
Addressing the immediate and long-term costs of homelessness, can be significant. Putting in place services which prevent homelessness in the first place, and which help people quickly if they find themselves needing support, can help stop these costs escalating.
There are also wider societal impacts of homelessness and research indicates that: