No warmth. No bed. No shower. No washing machine. No kitchen.

No comfort. No TV. Nowhere to keep your stuff. No address.

No kindness. No self-esteem. No hope.

When people hear the word “homeless”, they often think of an unkempt older male on the street. There is much more to it than that.

Individuals are termed homeless when there is nowhere they have a right to live. The term includes people who are in council temporary accommodation, as well as people sleeping on a friend’s sofa – sofa surfers – and those who are literally on the street – rough sleepers. Do we have any of these in leafy south Bucks? Actually, several hundred become homeless in Wycombe alone every year.

Homelessness can happen to anyone, but is much more likely for people already experiencing poverty, as they have no reserves to fall back on. The causes are wide ranging – from young people being asked to leave by their parents, to someone losing their job, getting into rent arrears and being evicted from their home. The problem is that these events are currently happening while there is a severe shortage of affordable housing and an increasingly unforgiving welfare system. Homelessness is often catastrophic for individuals who do not have family who can take them in or savings in the bank. 

Some people are entitled to housing help from their local council. But the law is quite specific and very complex. Councils must provide accommodation for those “in priority need” – for example young, old, ill, pregnant, vulnerable or with dependent children – provided they have a local connection, a valid immigration status and meet other criteria as well. People who pass these tests are termed “statutory homeless”. WDC took responsibility for around 100 of these households in the last year, almost all of them involving two or more people.

Unfortunately – and some would say outrageously – many people legally don’t qualify for this help, mainly single adults. Those are the homeless individuals we deal with. Of the 450 who come to us for advice or help each year, in round figures around 250 are homeless and another 100 are at risk of homelessness.

Some of them are individuals who are in accommodation but have no legal right to remain there, and often with no room of their own (“sofa surfers”). This is a position of serious insecurity, and indeed vulnerability, especially for women. These people are termed “concealed households”.

Others are rough sleepers; they form a minority of single homeless people. In Wycombe, the number of rough sleepers is often around 12 to 15 on any given night. We believe our work has limited the growth in homelessness in the town. Importantly, sleeping rough is not synonymous with begging or ‘street drinking’; in Wycombe most beggars are not currently homeless, and most rough sleepers do not beg. A minority of rough sleepers, partly sustained by ‘street generosity’ and often in the grip of an addiction, prefer to stay visibly on the street, sometimes causing anxiety or annoyance to members of the public and reinforcing stereotypes.  However, the vast majority of those sleeping rough do so because they have no other choice; they would take any opportunity to move on.

National trends

These statistics are from The Homelessness Monitor: England 2017, a report published by the charity Crisis, and the government’s reports for England on Statutory Homelessness Q1 2017 and Rough Sleeping Autumn 2016.

  • Statutory homelessness in Q3 2016 was 55% above its low point in Q4 2009 (this relates to the number of households qualifying for temporary accommodation by councils). By the end of March 2017, around 120,000 children and their families were in council temporary accommodation.
  • In these cases, the most common cause of homelessness was the end of a tenancy, accounting for 29% of all cases.
  • The number of adults in concealed household units in 2016 was estimated at 3.34 million, 33% up since 2008.
  • Rough sleeping is hard to measure accurately, but the official count showed 4134 people sleeping rough in autumn 2016, an increase of 134% from 2010.
  • In some of these categories, growth may be slowing; but the numbers involved remain high. Many believe that current developments in housing and welfare will cause a further rise in homelessness in the years ahead.

More details on the causes of homelessness can be found here.

Here are some individual stories of homelessness.