West Midlands: Attitudes Towards Homelessness Survey

published on 3 Feb 2015

More than half of people in the West Midlands do nothing when they see someone who is homeless

Almost a quarter of people in the West Midlands say the main cause of homelessness is alcohol or drug addiction (22 per cent) compared to 27 per cent across the UK, followed by debt and unemployment at 14 per cent (UK figure debt 13%, unemployment 11%) 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 the William Booth Centre in Birmingham and Harnall Lifehouse in Coventry, 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’s survey of residents reveals that the main cause of homelessness is actually relationship breakdown (43 per cent), with just 10 per cent of residents citing drug and alcohol addiction as the main cause. Other causes included 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).


Salvation Army leaders are warning that without greater education the gap between perception and the reality of homelessness will only widen, making it harder for people who are experiencing homelessness to get their lives back on track.


The public survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI*, also found that more than half of online adults aged 18+ in the West Midlands government region (51 per cent) say they always or almost always do nothing, when they see someone in the street who is homeless.


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 reveals 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." 


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


“Yes, alcohol and drugs may be a problem for many people experiencing homeless, 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 the survey reveals that 70 per cent of people in the West Midlands say that they do nothing when they see someone who is experiencing homelessness at least some of the time, 33 per cent say they give cash at least sometimes, 19 per cent at least sometimes purchased something to eat or drink and just seven per cent say that they at least sometimes have found out where the nearest homelessness service was and passed on the details to the person who was sleeping rough.


Major Russell said: “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 that 52 per cent of people in the West Midlands 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.”


Daniel Magee, 42, first became homeless when he lost his home when his relationship with his partner broke up. He came to The Salvation Army’s centre for people who are homeless – Harnall Lifehouse in Harnall Lane West, Coventry. He then moved into his own place but didn’t sort out his housing benefit payments and soon found he was getting behind with his rent.


He said: “At the time I lost my property I had problems with my son and family problems. I didn’t keep up with sorting out my benefits and I got into rent arrears. I got evicted from my property. I ended up sofa surfing and then got a place at Harnall Lifehouse. The Salvation Army got me a place pretty much straight away. The help that I got was more than helpful. I am not very confident on computers but my key worker gave me help to register to search and bid for properties. The Salvation Army staff didn’t see me just as homeless – they saw me for who I am.”


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 31 per of people say it is not at all likely that someone with a job that requires a professional qualification could ever become homeless. 


Interestingly, 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.


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 West Midlands 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 51 per cent agree that employers are less likely to give jobs to people who have previously experienced homelessness. 


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 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 of its 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 www.streetlink.org.uk.  


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, of these 186 were in the West Midlands. The data has been weighted to the national profile of the UK population.