The Issues

Crisis UK undertook a report ‘Prevention is better than cure’ 1999 Geoffry Randall and Susan Brown

This report examines ways of preventing homelessness and rough sleeping. The research surveyed the experiences of 120 people who sleep rough and interviewed staff from 19 different projects which work to prevent homelessness,as well as reviewing other research on the subject.

Risk Factors and Crisis

The report identifies a number of factors which increase the risk of homelessness in individuals, and Crisis highlights those which can trigger rough sleeping. Often, these are compounded – many are of course interrelated.


The Key Risk Factors are:

Disputes with parents and step-parents: 33 per cent of homeless people gave this as one of their reasons for first sleeping rough and 36 per cent as the main reason, rising to 37 per cent of people aged under 26.

Experience of physical or sexual abuse: surveys have found up to 40 per cent of homeless young people have suffered violence or abuse. Time in local authority care: surveys find between a quarter and a third of people sleeping rough have been in local authority care at some stage.
Lack of qualifications: only 38 per cent of people sleeping rough have any educational qualifications, compared to 66 per cent of the general population.

School exclusion: 28 per cent of people surveyed had been excluded from school.

Unemployment: 90 per cent or more of homeless people are unemployed.

Alcohol and drug misuse: between a third and a half of people sleeping rough have alcohol problems and up to 40 per cent of younger homeless people have drug problems.

Mental health problems: research has found that as many as 60 per cent of people sleeping rough may have mental health problems.

A combination of mental health, drug and alcohol problems: 36 per cent of people surveyed gave an indication of having multiple problems.

Contact with the criminal justice system: around half of people sleeping rough have been in prison or a young offenders institution and many have repeated contact with the police and courts.

Previous service in the armed forces: surveys have found that around a quarter of people sleeping rough have served in the armed forces at some time.

Marital or relationship breakdown: 13 per cent of the people surveyed gave this as a reason for sleeping rough the first time and 9 per cent gave it as the main reason.

Previous experience of homelessness: 85 per cent of the survey had experienced more than one episode of sleeping rough.

Lack of a social support network: agencies interviewed identified this as leading to and prolonging homelessness.

Failure to furnish or maintain a home: agencies giving tenancy support identified this as a warning sign that the tenancy may be failing.

Debts, especially rent or mortgage arrears: 26 per cent of people surveyed gave arrears or money problems as a reason why they first slept rough and 11 per cent as the main reason.

Prevention is better than cure

Causing nuisance to neighbours: agencies identified this is a symptom of other problems, often linked to mentalhealth and alcohol difficulties, as well as being a cause of eviction.

The crises points which can precipitate rough sleeping are:

Leaving the parental home after arguments.

Leaving care without adequate support.

Leaving prison.

Discharge from the armed forces.

Marital or relationship breakdown.

A financial crisis of mounting debts.

Eviction from a rented or owned home.

A sharp deterioration in mental health or an increase in alcohol misuse.

Preventing homelessness: The work of projects

There is a wide range of services which help to prevent homelessness. The key services are:

Education in schools on homelessness and leaving home.

Advice services for young people.

Services to help people return to accommodation in their home areas.

Extended and improved support for young people leaving care.

Support for people in contact with the criminal justice system.

Support for existing tenants of social housing with mental health and substance abuse problems, including the development of specialist support for people with multiple problems.

Support for people at risk of losing their home because of relationship breakdown, rent arrears or nuisance to neighbours.

Multiple services and inter-agency work provided through day centres and advice centres.

Befriending and mentoring services to tackle social isolation.

Resettlement services for people leaving the armed forces.

Specialist support for young people and women.

The Key Risk Factors are:

The report makes detailed recommendations for the further development of services in all these areas. It concludes that the key to preventing homelessness and rough sleeping is access to suitable accommodation, plus adequate practical support.Too often in the past the emphasis has been on the provision of accommodation and the support on offer has been inadequate or non-existent.

More detailed assessments of the most effective forms of intervention are needed,through separate evaluations of the different kinds of projects and the funding of pilot projects where there are gaps.It is clear that it is possible to prevent people at high risk of homelessness from sleeping rough. The challenge now is to develop a network of cost-effective services which will have a substantial impact on reducing the number of people who end up on the streets.

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