A third of online Scots aged 18+ (33 per cent compared to 27 per cent across the UK) believe the main cause of homelessness is alcohol or drug addiction, according to new research commissioned by The Salvation Army and carried out by Ipsos MORI*.
The survey also found that three per cent believe relationship breakdown is the main cause of homelessness.
However, the church and charity says there is a gulf between the public’s perception of homelessness and the reality.
The Salvation Army points to a survey it carried out in January of over 300 residents at its UK lifehouses (centres for people experiencing homelessness). In that poll, 43 per cent of residents cited relationship breakdown as the main cause of their homelessness, with 10 per cent of residents saying drugs or alcohol were to blame.
Salvation Army leaders say the recent findings prove greater education is needed to change people’s attitudes and end the cycle of homelessness.
Major Howard Russell, Deputy Territorial Director of Homelessness Services at The Salvation Army, said: "One of the key hurdles we face is around people's attitudes. The Ipsos MORI research has revealed the general public believe alcohol and drugs are the root cause of homelessness when, according to the people in our services, it’s actually relationship breakdowns. We believe educating the public on the reality of what causes homelessness is the way to overcome it.”
The other main causes of homelessness cited by Salvation Army lifehouse residents were: a combination of issues (16 per cent), physical or mental health problems (13 per cent), job loss (11 per cent) and debt (six per cent).
Major Howard added: "While the general public appear to be aware that there is a variety of causes of homelessness, a third of Scots incorrectly perceive drug and alcohol addiction to be the main cause.
“Yes, alcohol and drugs may be a problem for people experiencing homelessness. But, as our survey of our lifehouse residents shows, these are rarely the cause. Instead it tends to be the breakdown of a relationship – something that can happen to anyone at any time."
Other stats in the Ipsos MORI survey include 85 per cent of Scots saying that at least some of the time they do nothing when they see someone who is experiencing homelessness, 41 per cent saying they give cash at least sometimes, 21 per cent sometimes purchasing something for someone to eat or drink, and three per cent saying they at least sometimes find out where the nearest homelessness service is and pass on the details to the person who was sleeping rough.
Major Howard said: "We find it quite shocking that such a large proportion of the people polled would simply walk by and do nothing for a person sleeping rough. It isn’t an issue that can be ignored and we believe awareness needs to be raised.”
In the church and charity’s survey of lifehouse residents, 89 per cent said that if there was one thing they wished they’d known before they experienced homelessness it was that it can happen to anyone.
Major Howard added: "Our extensive experience has shown us that homelessness can affect anyone, and so it’s surprising that the Ipsos MORI poll has revealed that almost half of Scots (48 per cent) don’t think that they, or someone close to them, could ever experience homelessness. At our lifehouses you’ll find people who were previously employed in a range of professions.”
The Salvation Army says the Ipsos MORI findings have revealed a lack of understanding around who can be affected by homelessness, with a third of Scots (31 per cent) saying 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 treated them differently when they found out they were homeless. And 70 per cent said people treated them differently because they are experiencing homelessness."
Brian had his own heating engineering firm in Falkirk but when the credit crunch hit he struggled to keep the business afloat. In 2010 he suffered a nervous breakdown and ended up walking out of his flat and into a life of sleeping rough on the streets of Edinburgh.
After attempting to take his own life, Brian managed to get back on his feet and is now employed by The Salvation Army, supporting homeless men and women in Edinburgh.
He said: "If someone had told me six years ago that I'd end up homeless then go on to work for The Salvation Army I would have laughed at them.
"I used to think people who were homeless were at it and thought they just needed to get a job. But my experiences over the past six years have made me realise that homeless people are genuinely in need of help.
"When I was sleeping rough I tried to kill myself but a woman found me and called an ambulance. I ended up in hospital with all these things attached to me, thinking this doesn't look like heaven.
"From there I stayed in a B&B for six months, which was scarier than living on the streets. I have never had an addiction problem but most people in the B&B I stayed did, so it was intimidating at times.
"I also received no benefits for six months and my on first Christmas after being in hospital I remember sitting in the B&B with a packet of chocolate biscuits and a bottle of juice. I literally had no money.
"Eventually I got back to a better place thanks to the support I received from the council and started volunteering for the Cyrenians. From there I got an interview for a job of assistant support worker at the Pleasance Lifehouse. It was my first job interview and I got it.
"This week I celebrate a year working for The Salvation Army and I have loved every minute. I was promoted to support worker in October.
"I feel I'm able to connect with the residents because they know I've been, seen and done it. I was literally rock bottom with no money. I'll tell my story to the guys who come in so they can say: 'If he can do it so can we.'
"My experience on the job gives me the empathy and even though I didn't have an addiction, I have learned about that side of things.
"I'm proof that people who have been homeless can get their lives back on track. It certainly doesn’t help when people just ignore the problem and hope it goes away. What I'd like the public to understand is homeless is what I was not who I was."
Meanwhile, more than half of Scots (58 per cent) surveyed in the Ipsos MORI poll believe there is a stigma around homelessness that is holding people back from finding work.
Major Howard concluded: “The results of the public survey imply 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 because we believe in helping individuals reach their full potential, whatever that may be.
“We would ask people to put themselves in the shoes of a person experiencing homelessness because it’s something that can happen to anyone."
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. 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 across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Salvation Army runs a number of courses and activities at all its Lifehouses. These range from employment skills and cookery classes to how to maintain a tenancy. According to The Salvation Army's survey of lifehouse residents, 76 per cent say they take part in at least one activity on offer and 32 per cent take advantage of everything available to them – something the church and charity believes 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 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, 217 were in Scotland. The data has been weighted to the national profile of the UK population.
The Salvation Army conducted an anonymous survey this month of 314 residents at its lifehouses in the following locations: