World Homeless Day has been acknowledged on this day, October 10th, for over a decade. Since 2010, this day has honoured the experiences and realities of homelessness across the world, while recognising the many barriers' people experiencing homelessness face (World Homeless Day). In doing so, charities and advocates have hoped to dispel harmful stereotypes surrounding people without housing.
So, what are the causes of homelessness? Every person’s story is different, whether they have left an abusive or coercive relationship and have nowhere else to go, or a series of life events, such as losing a job, has led to the loss of their home (Crisis UK). There are also social causes of homelessness which differ depending on the country. In the UK, the biggest social causes of homelessness include:
- Lack of affordable housing
- Mental health and wellbeing
- Unemployment and
Is Homelessness Increasing in the UK?
The Covid-19 pandemic, supply and labour shortages, increases in energy costs, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increase in the cost of living not only in the UK, but on a global level (House of Commons Library). Naturally, one would assume that people and families that were struggling to make ends meet prior to these events would fall into hard times, but is homelessness increasing in the UK?
To answer this question, it is important to understand that there are different types of homelessness, that have varying degrees of severity and risk of violence attached to them. These include:
- Rough sleeping – the most commonly known form of homelessness and the most visible. Typically, this includes someone sleeping on the streets, with a sleeping bag. This is often the most dangerous form of homelessness and affects the most vulnerable people. According to Crisis UK, the longer someone spends sleeping on the streets, the more likely they are to face mental health issues, drug misuse and experiences of trauma.
- Statutory homelessness – In the UK, there are certain groups of people that fall into local authorities’ definition of a homeless person. Thousands of people apply for homelessness assistance every year. However, there are strict criteria that you must fulfil and only then will local authorities begin to place you into temporary accommodation.
- Hidden homelessness – There are many people without housing who do not apply for this assistance or do not fit into the definition of a homeless person. This includes people who are ‘sofa surfing’ in the homes of family and friends or people that are staying in hostels.
- At risk of homelessness – There are some that may have a roof over their heads, but they are living in poverty in insecure housing and are either unemployed or have a low paid job. They are at risk of being pushed into homelessness.
The total number of homeless people in the UK is currently unknown, as England, Scotland and Wales have different interpretations of what constitutes a ‘homeless person’. However, Shelter England has determined that 74,230 households were given homelessness status in the first quarter of 2022, which was 11 percent higher than the end of 2021. As these figures fit into the ‘statutory’ category of homelessness, the actual number of homeless people in England and the UK may be much higher.
Not only that, but according to the Museum of Homelessness, 1,286 rough sleepers died in the UK last year, which is a 32 percent increase compared to 2020 and an 80 percent increase compared to 2019. These figures are only set to grow, as it has been estimated that up to 50,000 Ukranian refugees could become homeless this winter (Guardian UK) as the Government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ resettlement scheme comes to a close.
Is there a mental health crisis in the UK?
There is no doubt that we are currently facing a mental health crisis in the UK. Although the restrictions and risk of Coronavirus has eased, the cost of living has dramatically increased, which has led to an increase in cases in anxiety and depression across the UK. This has led to a rapid increase in the millions of people across the UK that are seeking help for mental health problems that they are facing. According to the NHS, 1.6 million people are awaiting specialised treatment, while 8 million people are unable to get onto the waiting list.
For people who experience homelessness, their battle with mental health can often seem like a never-ending cycle. Often, it can be harder for someone struggling with mental health prior to homelessness to overcome their housing problems. However, once someone loses housing because of their mental health, the stress and anxiety of living in insecure or overcrowded housing can worsen these mental health issues (Mind UK). Today is World Homeless Day, but it is also World Mental Health Day, so it is important to acknowledge the impact mental ill-health can have on a person’s homelessness status and their ability to seek help and support.
Where can homeless people go?
The Prophet (saw) said, ‘He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbour goes hungry’. [Bukhari]
Food insecurity in the UK is a growing problem, as the effects of the cost-of-living crisis have caused over 1 million adults to go without food for the entire day (Guardian UK). Noticing the severity of this issue, in 2018, Muslim Hands opened their first Open Kitchen in Hounslow, London. Here, people experiencing homelessness, refugees, low-income families and elderly people can access two hot meals a day, as well as clothes, children’s toys, sanitary products and more. The demand for this service has grown over the years, which led to us opening a second Open Kitchen in Nottingham at the end of 2021, and we plan to open a third kitchen in Birmingham in the near future. We will be focusing on the amazing work of our Open Kitchen in Hounslow and the services they provide.
Open 365 days a year, the Hounslow Open Kitchen’s two chefs and our 25 regular volunteers produce almost 400 meals a day in London. Prior to the pandemic, when people walked through our doors, they would help themselves to the warm food that our buffet system had to offer. However, when Covid-19 hit the UK, instead of closing our doors, we switched to serving our patrons outdoors with reusable containers. As the demand for our services has rapidly increased since then, we continue to serve this way to ensure as many people as possible are able to eat daily hot meals.
How does this alleviate homelessness?
Although the Open Kitchens are on the frontline of the battle against food poverty, they are so much more than that. Since we opened our doors in London five years ago, because of the generosity of our donors, we have been able to help rough sleepers secure accommodation, ensure low-income families don’t have to choose between eating or paying bills, and provide essential belongings to those that cannot afford them. We provide these items in ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ bags. Currently our summer bags contain wipes, toothpaste, a toothbrush, cap, shower gel, underwear and shirts. We will start distributing our winter bags after the 19th of November.
Since 2018, petty crime in Hounslow has decreased by sixty-seven percent as the Open Kitchen has worked with local councilors and the police to reduce levels of shoplifting and crime in the area. As well as working closely with local councilors, who have helped us to ensure that thirty-one of our patrons have secure housing, we also offer a range of other services that aim to alleviate the challenges people experiencing homelessness face in London.
What else does the Open Kitchen offer?
In the last year, we have set up workshops specifically designed to help those that are seeking employment and those that are struggling with their mental health. We have been able to facilitate these workshops due to our partnership with NHS providers and local councilors that visit the Open Kitchen.
Our employment workshops occur on a quarterly basis in the London Open Kitchen. They were established six months ago, when eleven people attended the first workshop and two people secured employment. The second workshop had twenty-nine people attend and out of those, seven people found jobs.
Our mental health workshops happen more frequently, taking place every two weeks. This service is carried out by the local GP and has now moved to the NHS centre in Hounslow to facilitate more people. The Open Kitchen provides the meals for everyone that attends. Due to the success of this workshop, the Open Kitchen is also hosting a monthly workshop helping people affected by drug abuse.
How the Open Kitchen is helping people get back on their feet
Everyone’s journey through homelessness is different and so, the Open Kitchen Hounslow has responded in-kind and addressed the unique needs of the individuals that visit. Below are the stories of two beneficiaries, the struggles they face and the challenges that they have overcome.
Anita is fifty-one years old and has been living on the streets for three months. She became homeless after being hospitalised for septicemia and has been visiting the Open Kitchen ever since. At the time she was living with someone struggling with MS, as their carer. However, when she recovered from her illness, she had become homeless as they had to seek alternative support.
Anita heard about the Open Kitchen through word of mouth and although her mental health has been ‘up and down’, as she puts it, she explains that the staff here make you feel like “you’re never alone”. Anita has noticed the increase in the need for the Open Kitchen’s services as people around London feel the effects of the cost-of-living crisis.
“It’s crazy. It’s just not fair, everyone is suffering”
As the winter months are approaching, Anita 'dreads to think’ about the length of the queues as demand grows even further. However, things are looking up for her. Thanks to the Open Kitchen, she has secured temporary accommodation and is currently looking for something more permanent. She has also been unable to work due to a fractured spine, but she is currently receiving support from a ‘work coach’ to find employment that accommodates her injury.
Another one of the Open Kitchen’s beneficiaries is Graham. Graham was signposted to the Open Kitchen Hounslow when the mental health centre he used to visit closed down. He has been visiting the Open Kitchen for three years now. He considers the staff and volunteers as friends and has felt welcomed from day one. Graham used to work in security but has since suffered a back injury and was unable to continue with his job. However, he now offers this service to the Open Kitchen when they open for the day.
“I hate to think what state I would be in [without the Open Kitchen]”
When speaking about the effect the cost-of-living crisis has on him, he informs us that he currently has a roof over his head, but he is worried about the price of energy bills, as he doesn’t have any central heating, only an electric fire. He also told us that due to the price hikes, he has to turn off electricity during the day so that he can charge his phone and the scooter he needs to get around, due to his injury.
As the weather gets colder, the winter months are only going to exacerbate the cost of energy bills and many more may become homeless if they are unable to pay their bills. Our Open Kitchens are a life-saving service that hundreds of vulnerable people depend on every day. Without the generous contributions from our donors, we would be unable to provide the two hot meals, clothes, toiletries and other essential services that people experiencing homelessness cannot afford.
This World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day consider donating to Open Kitchens, to ensure that they will be able to provide this essential service in the winter months. Just £35 can provide 10 hot meals for people in need.