A study by academics at Heriot Watt University has thrown light on the diverse and high level of need homeless men and women typically have and compellingly illustrates the bleak journey that people actually take before sleeping rough.
It shows how homeless people are affected by a form of deep social exclusion they label as ‘multiple exclusion homelessness’ involving not just homelessness but also substance misuse, institutional care including experience of prison, and involvement in ‘street culture’ activities including begging and street drinking.
Their report, entitled ‘Multiple Exclusion Homelessness in the UK’, and authored by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Glen Bramley and Sarah Johnson, drew its conclusion from a survey conducted among the service users of homelessness services in seven UK cities.
These service users were typically found to have experienced troubled childhoods marred by school and/or family problems, with many reporting traumatic experiences such as sexual or physical abuse, homelessness or neglect. In adulthood, notable incidences of self-harm and suicide attempts are reported.
Individuals who had migrated to the UK – which make up a high percentage of the UK rough sleepers – reported less difficult family backgrounds and lower levels of support needs than those with a British upbringing.
The most complex forms of multiple exclusion homelessness tended to occur among middle aged men, especially those in their 30’s.
The report indicated that the chronological ordering of multiple exclusion homelessness is remarkably consistent within people’s life histories, with substance misuse and mental health problems generally preceding experience of homelessness, including rough sleeping and other adverse life events.
A typical timeline of life events shows people leaving care or home at around 17, substance misuse problems commencing from 17 through to 22, signs of deteriorating mental health in the early 20’s, experience of prison or young offender’ institution by the early 20’s. Homelessness occurs relatively late in the lifeline of the individual with rough sleeping on average first experienced at the age of 26.
An overview of the key findings of the report is available to download below.