No Place to Call Home: How every four minutes someone, somewhere becomes homeless

  • ITV Meridian's Joe Coshan speaks to people and organisations across the south about the misconceptions of homelessness.

It's described as an ever-growing crisis. The number of people experiencing homelessness across the country is rising and the situation in the south is no different.

According to figures from the charity Shelter, every four minutes another household becomes homeless.

And that is only expected to get worse as the cost of living crisis continues to affect people across the UK this winter.

As part of a special series, ITV Meridian has been looking at the misconceptions surrounding homelessness. Credit: ITV Meridian

Andrea Deakin, helpline Manager at Shelter, said: “Our advisers are doing everything they can to help people find or keep hold of their home in what’s expected to be one of the toughest winters as the cost of living crisis goes from bad to worse. 

“Day in, day out our advisers hear appalling stories of people in the most desperate situations, from the man whose increasing rent meant he only had one bag of rice to last him until payday to the homeless families bounced from hostel to hostel." 

But homelessness is not just a "housing emergency" - it's an issue surrounded by misconceptions.

It doesn't always mean a person is "sleeping rough" - an idea which comes to many when they think of homelessness - but can mean sleeping in the car, staying with a friend or "sofa surfing" as it's often known.

Taking a deeper look at the extent of the crisis in the south east, ITV Meridian has been speaking to people and organisations for our series 'No Place to Call Home'.

The number of people experiencing homelessness across the Meridian region has increased over the last two years Credit: ITV Meridian

What leads to people becoming homeless?

According to the Kent-based charity Porchlight, factors that can contribute can start as early as childhood, but are rarely straightforward.

The organisation says often a collection of factors can be to blame such as:

  • childhood poverty (by far the most powerful influence)

  • geography (more likely in areas of higher housing market pressures)

  • adverse experiences as teenager (especially being excluded from school, serious drug use, being in care

  • early adult experiences (leaving education early, experiencing unemployment, renting, illness/ disability, social relationships with family

Without adequate support, Cymorth Cymru’s director Katie Dalton warns homeless people are at serious risk Credit: ITV News

What does homelessness look like?

Experiencing homelessness is complicated, doesn't look the same for each individual and it can happen to anyone.

It's become a common misconception that you're only homeless if you sleep on the streets.

However, with the rising cost of living, some people are living in emergency accommodation, while others are sleeping on someone's sofa or even in their cars.

ITV Meridian spoke to Tania.

She and her partner ended up "sofa-surfing" with a family member after falling into rent arrears and being evicted from their flat.

"In April, we had to move out of our flat, and we didn't have anywhere else to go. No landlords would touch us because of our rent arrears," Tania said.

"I never thought I'd become homeless.

"It can happen to anybody at any time. Sometimes you don't know it's going to happen, sometimes you do.

"It just depends on circumstances."

  • Tania told ITV Meridian becoming homeless can happen to anyone and there are misconceptions surrounding the appearance of a "homeless person"

"Homeless comes in all different shapes and sizes," Tania said.

"Just because I like to make an effort in my appearance doesn't mean that I'm not homeless. Not all homeless people are wearing scruffy clothes, or are unkept.

"You can still take pride in your appearance - sometimes making an effort makes you feel better in yourself."

There are a number of other misconceptions associated with being homeless.

That people are homeless because they are lazy, or because they have chosen that path. But charities say these sort of myths can stop people seeing the true reality of homelessness.

As part of our investigation into the stigmas surrounding homelessness, we asked these people across the Meridian region - what does homelessness look like?

One man said: "Somebody lying in a shop doorway with a sleeping bag, looking very sad.

Another resident added: "Someone unemployed, with no relatives."

  • People describe what comes to mind when they hear the word 'homeless'

Across the region - the number of people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation has risen in the last two years.

Currently across the south east, more than 9,000 people are considered homeless.

In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole 571 people were experiencing homelessness in November 2022 alone. While in Wiltshire, there were 91 households in temporary accommodation and in Ashford in Kent, 169 households are in temporary accommodation - including 18 rough sleepers.

During the Covid pandemic, as a type of emergency accommodation, people living on the streets were moved into hotels.

For many it was a fresh start and a chance for social services to get a grip on so many complex personal situations.

However, as things returned to normal post-pandemic, so did the situation for rough sleepers.

One hotel in Worthing in West Sussex was used to house 50 people who were experiencing homelessness.

But the council was forced to end tenancies for people experiencing homelessness after issues with insurers.

So more than two and a half years after the UK was placed into its first lockdown, what does the picture look like now across the South, South East and Thames Valley?

  • Use our interactive map to search for the latest figures in your area

On World Homeless Day, ITV Meridian spoke to Jacqui from Dover. She spent 18 months living on the streets after losing her job.

Jacqui became homeless after losing her job.

She was forced to sleep rough because Universal Credit payments weren't enough to keep a roof over her head.

"Personally I was ashamed, and very embarrassed," Jacqui said.

"It was my other secret world that I didn't tell many people about. By doing that and not opening up, I wasn't really dealing with it. I was in self denial.

“At night I walked up and down, with blisters on my feet. I didn’t sleep, I was too scared.

"I thought the minute I stood still would be the minute I wouldn’t wake up.”

  • Jacqui told ITV Meridian's Joe Coshan she felt "ashamed and embarrassed" at not having a home

Jacqui was sleeping rough until the charity Porchlight stepped in to help.

She was encouraged to take part in activities and meet-ups to stop her feeling isolated from society.

During this time, Jacqui met Porchlight worker Abi - someone she felt comfortable opening up to.

Jacqui is now thriving and says she has reconnected with the person she used to be and is living in a place of her own.

But sadly this isn't the story for everyone.

Oxford City Council says the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased this year Credit: ITV Meridian

Oxford City Council says there has been an increase in the number of people experiencing rough sleeping this year.

The authority is increasing the number of emergency beds available and has admitted some shared sleeping spaces will need to be used because of the increase.

A public consultation is underway on the council's five year plan to try and end rough sleeping.

Up to 50 people are sleeping rough in the city at any one time according to the local authority.

Cabinet member for housing, Councillor Linda Smith says that's far too many. "We want it to be that no one sleeps rough on the streets of Oxford.

"Earlier this year, we set up a new alliance with neighbouring district councils to really work together to provide supported housing for people who have been previously sleeping rough.

"We now have more than 300 beds for people who are in that situation.

"Because it is so difficult to find affordable homes for people to move on into, there is a problem with that accommodation being full.

"That creates a bed blockage in terms of being able to move people off the streets."

  • Cabinet member for housing at Oxford City Council, Cllr Linda Smith is urging people worried about the cost of living to approach the council for help

Even in areas of the Meridian region that are considered the most affluent, people are continuing to experience homelessness.

There are many organisations, charities and shelters that people experiencing homelessness can go to for help.

However, many of those services say because of the rising cost of living, they are close to capacity.

The crisis is putting a strain on even more households this winter, more people are edging closer to having no place to call home.

  • Kate Cocker, director at the Crisis Skylight Centre in Oxford

National charity Crisis says even in areas of the south considered affluent, homelessness is still a problem.

"I would think our figures have doubled compared with a typical winter.

"I think we have also seen an increase in people who are contacting us for support who are in work and have maybe never been homeless before, which I think is a real indication of how the cost of living is affecting the country, and could affect the number of people who become homeless.

"As an organisation, we are predicting that 300,000 households could become homeless next year as a result.

"I think in the south east the problem is on a greater scale because of the cost of our housing here.

"We're seeing huge demand for our services.

"The main problem is people in work who are perhaps on benefits, can't afford to pay their rent or eat."

For advice and support on homelessness you can contact the following organisations

Shelter 0808 800 4444

Crisis 01865 263900

Porchlight 0800 567 7699

Two Saints 01329 234600

Knight Support Street Link 0300 500 0914