North West: Attitudes towards Homelessness Survey

published on 3 Feb 2015

More than half of online adults in the North West aged 18+ (51%) say they always, or almost always do nothing when they see someone in the street who is homeless, compared to 54 per cent across the UK.

Nearly a quarter of people say the main cause of homelessness is alcohol or drug addiction (24 per cent in the North West), followed by unemployment (15 per cent), according to new research commissioned by The Salvation Army and carried out by Ipsos MORI*.

The Salvation Army also carried out a survey of more than 300 residents of its centres (Lifehouses) for people experiencing homelessness, including centres in Liverpool, and reveals a worrying gap between the reality of what it's like to be homeless and the perception of the general public.

The Church and charity is warning that without greater education this gap will widen, making it harder for people who are experiencing homelessness to get their lives back on track, which could risk increasing the cost to society in the future.

Major Howard Russell, Deputy Territorial Director of Homelessness Services at The Salvation Army, said: “At The Salvation Army we are working to end the cycle of homelessness and one of the key hurdles we face is around people's attitudes as our research has revealed the general public believe alcohol and drugs are the root cause of homelessness when, in our experience, this isn't the case. We believe educating the public on the reality of what causes homelessness is the way to overcome this." 

The Church and charity's survey of its Lifehouses, reveals the main cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown (43 per cent), followed by a combination of issues (16 per cent), physical or mental health problems (13 per cent), job loss (11 per cent), then addiction (10 per cent), and finally debt (6 per cent).

Major Russell, said: "While the general public appear to be aware that there are a variety of causes of homelessness, nearly a quarter of people incorrectly perceive drug and alcohol addiction to be the main cause.

“Yes, alcohol and drugs may be a problem for many people experiencing homelessness, this often comes as a result of homelessness and, as our survey of our Lifehouse residents shows, it is rarely the cause. Instead, it is relationship breakdown, something that can happen to anyone at any time."

While revealing that 77 per cent of people say that at least some of the time they do nothing when they see someone who is experiencing homelessness, 38 per cent say they give cash at least sometimes, 22 per cent sometimes purchase something to eat or drink and 6 per cent say that at least some of the time they find out where the nearest homelessness service is and pass on the details to the person who is sleeping rough.

Major Russell continued: “We find it quite shocking that such a large proportion of the public polled would simply walk on by, doing nothing for a person sleeping rough. It isn’t an issue that can be ignored and we believe awareness needs to be raised.

“Our extensive experience has shown us that homelessness can affect anyone, and so it is surprising that the Ipsos MORI poll has revealed 51 per cent of people in the North West don’t think that they, or someone close to them could ever experience homelessness. At our Lifehouses you'll find many people who previously worked in a range of professions and skilled jobs.”

The Church and charity’s survey of Lifehouses reported that 89 per cent of residents agreed that if there was one thing they wished they’d known before they experienced homelessness it was that it can happen to anyone.

The Salvation Army believe the Ipsos MORI research reveals a lack of understanding around who can be affected by homelessness as 38 per of people say it is not at all likely that someone with a job that requires a professional qualification could ever become homeless. 

The survey of Salvation Army Lifehouse residents shows that 72 per cent worked before they experienced homelessness. In addition, 65 per cent reported that employers treat them differently when they find out they’re homeless. For 70 per cent people in general treat them differently because they are experiencing homelessness.

Tommy, 33, a former resident of Salvation Army Lifehouse Derbyshire House in Liverpool became homeless due to a relationship breakdown. He spent one night on the streets before discovering Derbyshire House where he received support and training which allowed him to move into his own flat. He now works at the Lifehouse as a food service assistant.

Tommy said: "I feel lucky because I found The Salvation Army. When you're homeless it's not just about getting a bed for the night, there is so much more to it, which I don't feel the average person on the street understands.  This can cause prejudice and I wish more people understood that homelessness isn’t who I am.

"Being homeless affects your confidence and can cause or worsen mental health problems, which I've seen in other residents at the Lifehouse. The Salvation Army understand and give support which actually helps and that's why I believe I've got my life on track again. Once you've been homeless it is possible to have a job and home again, and I'd really like to raise awareness of that. All you need is the right support, in a safe environment which The Salvation Army offer.”

The survey of Lifehouse residents reveals 68 per cent feel that people see their homelessness rather than them as a person.

The Ipsos MORI survey of online adults in the UK goes further in revealing the challenges faced by people once they have secured somewhere permanent to live and got their lives back on track, as over half (52 per cent in the North West) agree that employers are less likely to give jobs to people who have previously experienced homelessness. 

Major Russell concluded: “The Ipsos MORI poll result suggest that people believe that once you’ve experienced homelessness employers will think twice about giving you a job. At The Salvation Army we never give up on anyone as we believe in helping individuals to reach their full potential, whatever that may be, and we would like to encourage people to put themselves in the shoes of a someone experiencing homelessness, as it is something that can happen to anyone, it's not just alcoholics and drug addicts." 

The Salvation Army is an expert in running services for people experiencing homelessness and understands that a tailored and personal approach is needed when providing support. The Church and charity is keen to demonstrate that it's not a simple case of providing accommodation as it employs a skilled workforce who are there at every step of the way to walk alongside residents and equip them with the skills and support they need to reach their full potential, whether that be employment, re-connecting with family or beating an addiction.

In total The Salvation Army have more than 80 homelessness services around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It runs a number of courses and activities at all it's Lifehouses which range from employment skills and cookery classes to how to keep their tenancy when they get somewhere to live, an important part of breaking the cycle of homelessness.  

According to The Salvation Army's survey, 76 per cent of residents take part in at least one activity on offer and 32 per cent do all the courses available to them, which the Church and charity believe shows how keen residents are to get their lives on track, if society will allow them the opportunity.

This year The Salvation Army is celebrating 150 years of transforming lives and it is still at the heart of every community today, supporting those in need.

If a member of the public sees someone rough sleeping The Salvation Army would like to suggest they contact StreetLink which is a phone-line, website and mobile app available across England which enables the public to alert local authorities about rough sleepers in their area.

This service offers the public a means to act when they see someone sleeping rough and is the first step someone can take to ensure rough sleepers are connected to local services and support available to them. Simply call 0300 500 0914, send an alert via the mobile app or log on to  

In other parts of the UK and Ireland The Salvation Army would suggest the public visit their local council’s website for 24 hour assistance on what they can do to help someone who is sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness.

Notes to Editors

*Research commissioned by The Salvation Army and carried out by Ipsos MORI. 2,119 UK adults were interviewed online between 9-13th January 2015, 241 of which were in the North West. The data has been weighted to the national profile of the UK population.