"I shouldn't be homeless" The Number of rough sleepers in the uniteD kingdom is increasing for the eighth year in a row. One of them is Jack.

By Sina Götz

Jack loves classical music. He plays the guitar, the piano, and loves the American jazz legend, Frank Sinatra. The 27-year old man went to a Highschool in Wakefield, a small town close to Leeds. After graduating, he decided to study classical music at the university. “I have loved music since I was a kid”, he explains. “Before this happened I used to always jam with my friends”.

When Jack is talking about 'this', he is referring to the day he became a rough sleeper. One year ago, his life totally changed. “I’ve never been the best in university, but I’ve also never had problems to pass my exams”, he reveals. But suddenly in his second year in university, he was overwhelmed by the feeling, that he just cannot handle the situation anymore.

He skipped uni, got in trouble with his family and finally was not able to pay his rent anymore. Suddenly he found himself living on the street. When he is talking about that time, he speaks very calmly and quietly. “I’m embarrassed to talk about it”, he admits. He does not have an answer to the question of what exactly happened: “I don’t even know myself why I am living on the street”.

Jack gets some hot food at the street kitchen. Photo: Sina Götz

Jack is one of 4,157 rough sleepers in England. According to the latest statistics of the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the number has been growing at a rate of about 136 percent over the last ten years. Click here to see the chart.

The number of homeless people is a lot higher than the figures for rough sleepers. The latest statistics from the British Non-Profit Organization Shelter shows that 276,925 people are currently known to be living on the streets or in temporary accommodations in England.

“In our rich country nobody should live on the street”, says Fiona Hobson from Simon On The Streets, a Non-Profit Organization in Leeds, that takes care of rough sleepers.

These rising numbers are just one of the reasons, why the United Nations started investigating poverty in the UK this year. In November Philip Alston, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, stayed 12 days for a fact finding-mission. Among other things, he says in his report, austerity has inflicted the misery on citizens.

Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so.

"Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead", he explains.

For three months now, Jack has been coming to the open street kitchen on the square in front of the cathedral. Anna Howard and John Craig started the project together with two other friends. Howard explains: “Everybody is welcome, not just rough sleepers, also the people who are struggling to buy their own food. If our street kitchen would be inside, not even half of the people would come to our place”.

This Wednesday at the end of November is stormy and cold. It has been raining the whole day. “Our kitchen is growing. Not only big cities but also smaller towns are getting in trouble", explains Craig. (Read: The Situation in Leeds)

Jack is happy that there are places like the street kitchen. “It is a good place. You get warm food and hot drinks. It gets very cold in the winter”, he explains. “I hate the British weather”.

"There is no average homeless"

The 27-year-old man is wearing a red jacket with fake fur and an Adidas backpack, like a lot of other boys his age. He does not look like he has no home anymore. He does not look like somebody who is living on the street.

According to the latest rough sleepers strategy of the government, about 83 percent of the rough sleepers in England are male and became homeless in their mid-twenties. Most of them are between 25 and 55 years old. “But there is no average homeless”, Hobson explains. “The people living on the streets are engineers, students, asylum seekers, a lot of people from eastern Europe who tried to have a better life in the UK and many former armed forces. People from every part of the society”.

Also, the reasons why people become homeless are completely different. In their latest report, the professors Suzanne Fitzpatrick and Glen Bramley identified poverty, in particular, childhood poverty, as the most powerful predictor of all forms of homelessness in the UK. According to their work also factors such as ethnicity, education, adverse childhood experiences, gender, and employment are playing an important role. Hobson also sees another problem. “A lot of people suffer by a stroke of fate, become addicted to drugs and end up living on the street”, she explains. “It is a spiral, from which it is difficult to get out again”.

The Government now started to fight against these numbers. It is the new goal of the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Government that by the year 2027 nobody is living on the streets anymore. Therefore, the government established the “Rough sleeping strategy” in autumn of this year, which every local government has to follow. The goal of this strategy is to prevent people who are in danger of becoming homeless and to help them who are already living on the street. The government wants to do this with a lot of money to support the local departments and wants to work hand in hand with them.

A step in the right direction

“It is a step in the right direction”, says Hobsen. But it will take a long time until it reaches the people who are already living on the street. It will take some time before Jack gets the help he needs. However, the 27-year-old has other plans anyway and like a lot of other rough sleepers he does not want to get help from the government.

He wants to solve his problems on his own. According to Hobson, a lot of people rather choose rough sleeping over staying at government shelters because of their distrust in society. They do not believe in the political system anymore. Further, the homeless are also not allowed to bring their dogs or take drugs in a lot of shelters. Thus, they rather decide on their own, what is good for them.

When asked what his goal for the future is, Jack does not answer by stating that he is trying to resettle. Instead, he wants to move to London. "There is more going on, on the streets", he explains. He knows that London is the city with the most homeless people in England. "It gets harder in London, but I've been here too long". After a moment of reflection, Jack says that the conversation has made him think. Talking about his story, he first realized that he had already lived on the street for a year. "Actually, I should not be thinking about London at all. I should not be homeless", says Jack and turns back to get one more hot drink. It is going to be a cold night in Wakefield.


Sina Götz

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