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Katharine Sacks-Jones @KatharineSJ Head of Policy & Campaigns

What people really think about homelessness

With Christmas only a matter of days away, most of us are looking forward to spending the next week with friends and family. But if you are cut off from family and home, as homeless people so often are, this can be a particularly difficult and lonely period. It is also a time, perhaps because of this, that the public tend think more about homelessness. So, what exactly do they think? Encouragingly, the short answer is that people strongly believe that everyone deserves a second chance. They also think that Government could and should be doing more to help.

At Crisis, Christmas is always a particularly busy time of year. It is when people are willing to give up their time to volunteer in our centres and when we get many of the donations which are needed to fund the vital year round work we do. Like many charities, we are completely reliant on people’s goodwill and generosity to support homeless people and so we wanted to understand what people knew and thought about homelessness. Research we undertook earlier in the year found that people are generally sympathetic towards homeless people – with sadness and pity being the most commonly cited emotions when people are asked to describe how they feel when they see a homeless person.

People, correctly, think that homelessness is caused by a mixture of structural issues, such as unemployment and a lack of housing, and personal  factors, like mental illness. There are however, some common misconceptions, not least that some people make a choice to be homeless (with nearly half of people thinking this), which all our evidence and experience strongly refutes. Perhaps related is the fact that there is a certain amount of fatalism about homelessness, with 68% of people thinking that however hard we try to help, some people will always be homeless.

More positively is that people overwhelmingly believe that everyone deserves a second chance if they become homeless. It is a testament to the great British public that 83% think all homeless people should be given another opportunity. They also think that there is a role for Government in helping people back on their feet. A majority think that tackling homelessness should be a higher priority for Government (56%) and that everyone who is homeless should receive assistance from their local council (59%). Encouragingly that’s exactly what we’re calling for through our No One Turned Away campaign and over 20,000 people already having signed our petition.

Many more people are giving up their Christmases to provide companionship and support and to help people take their first steps out of homelessness.  Tomorrow our doors open for Crisis at Christmas, an event only made possible by the commitment of thousands of volunteers. They, like many others, care about homelessness and believe more needs to be done to tackle it.  But they also recognise that volunteers and charities alone are not enough and that Government too needs to play a role. People are wrong about one thing though. Homelessness is not an inevitability. It is largely driven by political choices and it can therefore also be ended by them. This Christmas we want politicians to listen and take up this challenge.