Homeless people are often hidden, ignored and on the margins of society. Surprisingly, the estimated lifespan of someone without a home is 47 - that’s about thirty years less than for housed folk. Even more surprising, it is more common than we’d like to think that on Friday and Saturday nights after a ‘skinful’, people have been known to finish their night off by using a homeless person as a punchbag. Mark, who was formerly homeless told me, “I was sleeping rough by a derelict shop beneath some student accommodation. One night they saw me going to bed and threw bottles of piss over me.” It not being the nineteenth century, it’s hard to imagine lobbing your piss out of a window, let alone at someone. (Framework Homeless team)
What is homelessness?
Homelessness is a scale. Many homeless people never end up sleeping outside but instead sleep on friends’ sofas, unsuitable accommodation or in supported housing. The definition of ‘rough sleeping’ is a complicated one and has often come under fire, but the current guideline, penned by the charity Crisis, is: “People sleeping, about to bed down in the open air and people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation.”
One of the problems of homelessness is the public perception of how people get into the predicament. Is it usually because they spent all their money on drugs and alcohol? There’s no denying that drugs, alcohol and homelessness do frequently go hand in hand, but addiction is often a symptom of being on the streets, rather than the initial reason.
The total homelessness population using shelter data is estimated to be over 300,000 people or 1 in 200 people. This figure could be much more because all the figures of homelessness are estimates due to the difficulty in assessing each case.
Official government figures for rough sleeper’s state that 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017, this statistic is mostly made up of estimates so the true figure could be much higher. As stated previously most homeless people do not end up being rough sleepers so this is a fraction of the current homeless population.
A hand up, not a hand out
Beggars can always be found hanging around by cash machines at 2am at the weekends. “There are a few beggars and some of them have been, or will be, homeless but really it’s unusual for a rough sleeper to beg. More often it’s just part of a story.” There is a street drinking and begging task force by Framework who work closely alongside the Outreach Team and Nottingham’s street pastors, so more likely than not the beggar you see in town is known to the service and not classed as needing somewhere to bed down that night.
Out on the streets
Homeless people are found at places where we walk past every day. There are stories of people sleeping in hedges, caves (although now cordoned off, the caves under the castle were a favourite), graveyards and old restaurants. They can be found in car parks, at the railway station, Outside Mc Donald’s, doorways, alleyways, Hockley area, corners of bars, Trinity Square etc.
Parminder Dhanjal, Director of SFiCE Foundation
SFiCE Foundation's outreach work with homeless