Yorkshire and Humber: Attitudes towards homelessness Survey

published on 3 Feb 2015

More than half of online adults in Yorkshire and Humberside aged 18+ (62 per cent) 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.

More than a third of people say the main cause of homelessness is alcohol or drug addiction (34 per cent in Yorkshire and Humberside), followed by debt (16 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 Grimsby and Skegness, 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, more than a third 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 87 per cent of people say that at least some of the time they do nothing when they see someone who is experiencing homelessness, 33 per cent say they give cash at least sometimes, 17 per cent have purchased food 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, so it is surprising that the Ipsos MORI poll has revealed 53 per cent of people in Yorkshire and Humberside 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 nearly a fifth (38 per of people in Yorkshire and Humberside) 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.

John, became homeless after he split up with his girlfriend and lived under a bridge for two years in Nottingham. However, he decided to take action and make a new start in a town where he hoped he could get help, so he started walking to Skegness. After three days and nearly 90 miles he arrived and went straight to the job centre where they told him about Witham Lodge, a Salvation Army Lifehouse. Thanks to the support he received he's now living in a half way flat and in the process of applying for jobs. He says:

"Once you become homeless you can quickly get caught in a downward spiral and getting out of that is incredibly challenging. Once I took that decision to get my life back on track I just needed to find the right organisation to help me and The Salvation Army have been amazing. It's not just about having a bed for the night as, like most homeless people, I needed a lot of support and help to piece my life back together again.

"People assume I became homeless because I was an addict and that's upsetting as it isn't true. I've found people can be very judgmental but homeless is not who I am."

"I'm proof that homeless people aren't washed up and we can get back on our feet and contribute to society again. I can't wait to get a job and I am very grateful that there are organisations like The Salvation Army which understand homelessness."

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 52 per cent (in Yorkshire and Humberside) agree that employers are less likely to give jobs to people who have previously experienced homelessness. 

Major Russell, concluded:  “The Ipsos MORI poll result suggests people believe 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 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.  2,119UK adults were interviewed online between 9-13th January 2015, of these, 190 were in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. The data has been weighted to the national profile of the UK population.