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What is ‘Hidden’ Homelessness?

Hidden homeless

How do you define ‘home’?

It would be wrong of me to attempt to describe what home is. Each one of us will have a different set of values and resources which define what home means. For some, a luxury mansion will never be enough while for others, a single room in shared accommodation is better than the alternatives. Is it actually possible to explain what homelessness is, let alone whether it is ‘hidden’?

Housing is not merely a commodity, it’s a human right. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declares that “The human right to adequate housing means the right for all to a place in security, peace and dignity.” It goes on to say that for Housing to be ‘adequate’ it must meet the following criteria: Security of tenure, Affordability, Habitability, Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, Location, Accessibility and Cultural adequacy.  Having listed these headings, it becomes easier to understand what might constitute the makings of adequate housing that could become a home before the essential human element is added. That’s where the elements of security, peace and dignity start to come into play through personal, family and community relationships.

So, it should be easy to see that homeless people are not just the stereotypical person sleeping in a shop doorway but may also include others deprived of their human rights.

The ’hidden’ homeless

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government published in February 2021, ‘Rough sleeping snapshot in England: autumn 2020’. It defines rough sleeping as, “about to bed down or bedded down in the open air. People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation.” Last year, when the central government ‘Everyone In’ funding was in place, Basingstoke and Deane was listed as having zero rough sleepers.

However, there is a term used to describe those people who would not be identified during the annual count of street homeless people every November. That term is ‘Hidden Homeless’. They are people casually staying with friends, relatives or hosts willing or unwilling, the so-called ‘Sofa-Surfers’. There are people in abusive situations with partners, family members or who are victims of modern slavery. There are families with grossly overcrowded spaces for children to grow in. Also, people in temporary accommodation in which they cannot or do not wish to settle, like temporary overnight provision in hotels and guest houses, hostels and supportive living. People living in crowded or noisy buildings, and equally, those condemned to enforced solitude, who are desperately seeking a place more suited to their physical and social needs along with those of their mental health.

What’s being done locally

There are a large number of central and local government organisations, along with national and local charities and their supporters working tremendously hard to ease the misery of individuals with a wide range of supportive services, with substantial funds from taxation and charitable endeavours. There is greater focus on moving homeless people into services that enable them to recover their situation more quickly before inappropriate behaviours become imbedded. The proposed new supported living facility in Culver Road (as a replacement for the May Place hostel) is important. As are ten new ‘Housing First’ properties across the town along with nine low level ‘end of pathway’ places across three properties. These focus on developing independent living for recovering clients with intensive support.

In due course, a higher proportion of adequate quality, new housing for single people and small families will need to be a core part of our local planning policy. But that is another discussion.

Most people need to get out of their accommodation from time to time, whether for socialising, shopping or leisure. Poverty is often a limiting factor and unless charitable organisations like The Camrose Centre offer a genuine and open welcome, friendship and a listening ear, many people, even those with housing will still remain part of the ‘Hidden Homeless’.

Mike Browning

Chair of Trustees, The Camrose Centre


Case studies: What life is like for the hidden homeless in Basingstoke

David* – in his 40’s – was street homeless after a relationship breakdown. He was placed in a hostel for some months before being moved on into a flat. 18 months later he received an eviction notice stating that the property was only temporary and he needed to bid for a permanent property on the housing register. This caused panic and distress as he feared he may be left street homeless once more. David received intervention and support from Camrose to successfully bid on a permenant property.

Jon* was street homeless and struggling with alcohol misuse. He was floating between rough sleeping, and various family members putting him up. Eventually the option of staying with family became exhausted due to his continuous alcohol misuse which left him desperately looking for somewhere to stay. A friend allowed Jon to sofa surf at his property; however, Jon was required to pay rent to his friend in order to stay at the property from his universal credit living allowance as housing benefit cannot be claimed to sofa surf. This client continues to visit Camrose for meals and other practical support. Support Workers are monitoring his situation regularly to find opportunities to stabilise his life choices.

Adrian* was evicted from various properties and hostels and eventually put up in a hotel under the ‘Everyone in’ policy during Covid lockdown. The hotel was out of town and some miles from any amenities. Adrian had no access to any cooking facilities except a kettle in his room. The hotel was closed to catering meaning hot meal options were extremely limited. Adrian felt very isolated and depended on emergency hot meals being delivered to him weekly by Camrose. Since his spell in emergency accommodation Adrian visits Camrose for emotional and practical support as he seeks to recover from the behaviours that have caused his homelessness.

*Names have been changed to protect client’s identity