This content applies to England only.
Shelter is working for an end to homelessness.
Tackling homelessness is not just about getting people off the streets. It's also about finding lasting solutions to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place.
Preventing homelessness is central to Shelter’s work. Alongside our support services for those in housing need, we campaign for legal and policy solutions to ensure people's homes are protected.
What is homelessness?
Homelessness is the most extreme form of housing need. But it isn’t just about people sleeping on the streets. There are many more people in England who do not have a home despite not actually sleeping rough. Some have to put up with living in temporary accommodation where they have an uncertain future. Unable to afford alternative options, others have to endure overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. Having a home is about more than just having a roof over your head.
The problem of homelessness
Homelessness is not just a housing problem. Not having a decent home adversely affects all areas of your life - from your health, to your achievement at school if you are a child, and your ability to get work if you are an adult. Conversely, if you are struggling with your health or your employment, this may in turn affect your housing needs and the security of your home.
People end up homeless for a wide variety of reasons:
- When relationships break down, often one person is forced to move out without anywhere to go.
- Private tenancies frequently last only for six months or a year, and when they come to an end people may face homelessness due to a lack of other affordable options.
- When faced with an abusive home life, many children decide to run away.
After a reduction in or loss of income due to health reasons or unemployment, or a sharp rise in interest rates, a person may find themselves unable to keep up mortgage repayments. Some people on low incomes who rely on housing benefit to pay their rent can face eviction because of errors and delays in the benefit being paid.
Every homeless person’s situation is unique and complex. But Shelter believes that one of the main underlying causes of homelessness in England is a lack of affordable housing.
How to prevent homelessness
Since 2002, the Government has made homelessness prevention a priority, providing funding to improve homelessness services and requiring local councils to develop proactive strategies to prevent homelessness in their area.
Shelter believes that the current homelessness prevention approach can be improved in a number of ways. For example, we believe that every local authority should have a tenancy sustainment service to help vulnerable people to remain in their homes. We also believe homelessness for many people could be avoided through making the housing benefit system work better.
Ultimately, however, Shelter believes the solution to homelessness in England is to build more affordable housing.
The provision of housing needs to be increased throughout the social housing sector, the private rented sector and in the privately owned sector. Alongside this, the Government should look to build neighbourhoods where people can thrive.
Shelter's campaign demands
Shelter would like to see the Government's homelessness prevention strategy refocused to do more at an earlier stage to help people who are in danger of becoming homeless to keep their home, and to ensure that people who are homeless are offered secure housing they can afford.
Shelter calls on the Government and local councils to:
- improve access to tenancy sustainment services to ensure that vulnerable people have the support they need to remain successfully in their homes
- reform the housing benefit system to make it simpler and easy to access for those in housing need.
Shelter opposes policies that create barriers for people who are facing a housing crisis from receiving the help they need.
Many people only associate homelessness with sleeping on the streets, but this conceals the range and scale of the problem. To understand what homelessness really is, it's important to first consider what a 'home' is.
Most people in England are fortunate enough never to have to experience homelessness. But for those who do, it can be a very traumatic experience that is hard to escape from, damaging physical and emotional well-being along the way.
Homelessness is still viewed by many as the result of personal failings. But homelessness is caused by a complex interplay between a person's personal circumstances, and adverse 'structural' factors, outside that person's direct control. These problems can build up over years leading to the final crisis when a person may become homeless.
Shelter’s work centres around preventing homelessness, both through our critical support services for people in housing need and our campaigns to improve government policies and services for homeless people. We believe people should not be allowed to become homeless and to properly tackle the issue of homelessness, its causes need to be addressed.
When tackling street homelessness, a distinction needs to be made between meeting the day-to-day needs of street homeless people, and the challenge of finding lasting solutions to their problems and getting them back into decent homes.