Report reveals public attitudes to homelessness and role of sector in shaping them

The housing and homelessness sector needs to change the way it talks about homelessness if it is to convince the public that it can be ended, according to a new report publishing today by Crisis and partners from across the sector.

Conducted for Crisis by the FrameWorks Institute, and drawing on interviews with experts and members of the public, as well as analysis of sector and media stories, the study shows that the public hold a specific view about who is ‘really’ homeless and how they came to be there, and that both the homelessness sector and the media play a role is supporting these perceptions.

It reveals that while experts see homelessness as a range of insecure housing situations, with some groups at greater risk than others, the public tend to equate it with rough sleeping and certain ‘typical’ images – the middle-aged male rough sleeper with poor mental health, the young person kicked out of the family home or the woman fleeing domestic violence.

The report warns that this limited view prevents people from seeing homelessness as a broad social issue that affects many kinds of people. Instead, they see homeless people as victims or outsiders who become homeless through poor choices or bad luck ¬- causes that are seen as individual and inevitable. Consequently, any link with poverty, a lack of affordable housing or wider social forces is almost completely lost.

Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation, said:

"I am delighted to be participating in this major cross-sector initiative. We know that poverty is the most significant driver in social and financial exclusion and very much welcome this call to change the language and shift the debate. Meaningful measures to tackle poverty will improve the lives of those who find themselves homeless and help prevent its devastating effects on future generations”.

Based on the findings, the study outlines a series of recommendations for the sector to change how it talks about homelessness with a view to shaping a better public understanding, including work to:

  • Challenge the public’s image of a ‘typical’ homeless person;
  • Discuss the social and economic conditions that shape people’s experiences;
  • Talk about the societal impact of homelessness as well as the individual;
  • Encourage the belief that collective action can drive change

The study shows how the sector and media often support and encourage these views by telling incomplete stories, thus undermining any calls for wider social change. Drawing on an analysis of sector and media communications, it shows how rough sleeping was by far the most frequently discussed type of homelessness, while more than half of sector and media stories failed to mention a systemic cause of homelessness and 17% of sector stories omitted any kind of solution.

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