Mythbusters: What We Know About Homelessness

At Invisible Cities we are all about breaking down the stigma that exists around homelessness. Our tours educate guests on issues surrounding homelessness and our guides are always passionate about sharing part of their personal stories (if they want to!) to help create more empathy and understanding when it comes to social issues. What are the misconceptions that can exist around homelessness and what is the reality? We have compiled a few answers for you here.

What is the main reason for someone to experience homelessness?

Around half of cases are due to a relationship breakdown and according to The Big Issue, it is the most common reason in the UK.  Often the end of a relationship brings about other challenges such as the loss of a job, access to children or mental health struggles. The negative emotions associated with this type of situation, especially when impacting someone who is already vulnerable, can turn life upsidedown. A trauma such as this can amplify mental health conditions and also increase substance misuse.  In turn, creating wider and more dangerous concerns.  It may also lead to the loss of an existing support network of friendship groups and family, leading to people feeling isolated and disconnected.  It can be an overwhelming and terrifying time with the situation often occurring quickly or unexpectedly.  Support services will often be engaged to assess the severity of the situation, and whilst that process itself can be upsetting and complex, a range of services are available to those who find themselves homeless through a relationship breakdown. 

Whilst some people are unable to make safe or practical choices, largely homelessness is driven by circumstances such as the loss of a job or relationship, domestic violence, mental illness, depression, PTSD or trauma. (source: Homeless Hub). In 2019 it was reported that 32% of deaths amongst those experiencing homelessness, were due to drug poisoning. (source:

  • Does homelessness always mean sleeping rough?

Not necessarily.  You may hear of the term ‘street homeless’ which refers to people sleeping rough or sleeping on the streets.  According to The Big Issue as of Autumn 2023, 3898 people were sleeping rough on a single night in England.  That was up by nearly 25% on the previous year.  With 309,000 classed as homeless in the UK at the same point in 2023, it suggests that 1% are sleeping rough, however we also know that the issue of hidden homelessness, especially with women, means that regular street census activities don’t take everyone into account, despite best efforts. (source: Shelter). 

Hidden homelessness can also mean that someone is staying in a range of unstable places such as sofa surfing, staying with friends or in unregistered accommodation.  Unregistered accommodation often has poor safety, security and health standards.  All forms of unstable accommodation come with a risk of exploitation and abuse.  Women, young people and people trafficked into London are especially vulnerable to these situations.  Homelessness can also mean living in transitional or temporary accommodation which is often the case when someone has made an application to be housed via the council.  If there is a priority need a person may be housed in a private flat, B&B or hostel. Because of the growing need for more permanent accommodation and the shortfall of properties available, people can find themselves in temporary accommodation for months or even years. (with credit to: Evolve Housing UK). 

The term ‘statutory homelessness’ is often used by local authorities when assessing whether people are entitled to support in finding and securing housing. It means that a person must prove they cannot access a secure place to live and the process comes with strict criteria that can be daunting and up setting to navigate. Priority is often given to families with children.

Does buying someone who is experiencing homelessness food just exacerbate the problem?

Some charities and support services feel that giving someone on the streets food or money encourages people to stay on the streets and to beg, rather than accessing services that offer food, clothing and access to other support mechanics. This means that they are not accessing help with their mental or physical health as they would if they came into a support venue where trained staff are able to assist. So it can be argued that the better thing to do is to make a regular donation to a charity that takes action to tackle homelessness. In some situations, support services also use the offer of food as a way to start building a connection so they can help in other ways such as support with accommodation. Street action services to engage with people who are on the streets will often take items of food, personal health items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste or clothing to people as a way of starting a conversation and encouraging people to access wider help. If you do decide to offer someone something to eat, also consider asking them their name, telling them yours and pausing for longer than the few seconds to hand them the food. Often those experiencing homelessness haven’t spoken to anyone in quite some time.

Why do people on the streets have dogs?

Companion animals provide love, warmth, and security. Imagine being totally alone in the world – having a companion like this can be hugely beneficial to someone’s mental health. Sometimes a person will decline accommodation and choose to sleep on the streets if it doesn’t allow pets. And it can be very difficult to find a shelter or hostel that allows dogs.
One such charity addressing this issue is Street Paws in Manchester. “We understand the huge benefits that come with having a pet and for people facing homelessness those benefits can be even more important. Pets can provide a sense of calm and companionship, which can help to reduce some of the stress and anxiety experienced by people living with homelessness. Studies have shown that owning a pet can improve mental and physical health. Pet owners are more likely to have lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and they help people cope with physical and mental pain. Having a dog when you are on the street helps to increase social interactions with other people which can help overcome the feelings of invisibility. Pet ownership gives individuals a drive to nurture their pet and gives them a sense of responsibility and purpose. Many of the people we work with tell us that their dog is their best friend who never judges them, they just love them unconditionally. Doesn’t everyone deserves a friend like that?

We will continue adding to this list of Homelessness Myth busters!

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