Recent government statistics placed an official stamp on what most of the country already knew: the capital has been, and proceeds to be, caught in the midst of a homelessness crisis. On one autumn night in 2019, 1,316 individuals were counted sleeping rough on the streets of London and, although this figure in isolation is in itself agonizing to digest, experts believe the true figure to be far higher. Labour MP, John Healey, wrote to the UK Statistics Authority regarding what he deemed a “misleading and unreliable undercount of the number of people sleeping rough”. Taunted by continuously rising house costs, the large numbers of individuals who find themselves homeless face daily tussles with their mental health, addiction, and an overwhelmingly unsympathetic public.


Most crucially, it is vital to realise that the issues facing those without a home stretch far further than the lack of accommodation itself. The unforgiving grips of isolation, loneliness and depression individually clasp around the throat of the homeless, often causing them to feel as though it would be better to choke entirely than to gasp for breath for any longer. Thus, as depressing as it may be, it is hardly surprising that, according to the Office for National Statistics, suicides account for approximately 12% of homeless deaths. Those without a permanent place to stay have always, and will always, be a population desperately in need of emotional support.


When an individual finds themselves without a permanent place they can proudly call their own, it is often impossible to maintain their social connections. Not only do they lose a place to rest their head, but they find themselves deprived of a much needed social hub where they can come together with those they love in a safe environment; to laugh, talk, and socialise. In the end, the homeless find themselves surgically cut from the social cloth of society, isolated and alone, left believing that no one genuinely cares about them anymore.


This poisonous concoction of isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness has a tendency to lead to a detrimental amalgamation of depression and drug abuse. According to a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, an enormous 80% of homeless individuals admitted to facing the day to day struggle of battling a mental illness. Following this trend, those on the streets find themselves 10 times more likely to suffer from severe depression than the general population. Bearing this in mind, the extremely high addiction rates in homeless people can not come as a surprise. Even individuals who are fortunate enough to find themselves in stable accommodation often look to drugs to escape, or even entirely forget, a dire reality. Despite a surprisingly common trend of drug abuse extending across the country, the number of drug abuse cases in the homeless population are disproportionately high. In a press release from, it was revealed that 32% of homeless deaths are a result of drug poisoning, in comparison to just 1% for the total population.


A wealth of initiatives have been set up to provide support for the homeless, with the likes of Watford based charity New Hope “preventing homelessness and transforming lives”. The organisation supplies a variety of exceptional support services, such as healthcare, housing advice, mental health support, substance misuse support, as well as emergency accommodation. Similar, larger, initiatives proceed to fight homelessness in the heart of the nation's capital, for instance, Crisis and Glass Door Homelessness. However, it would be naive to assume that as a result of such efforts, our responsibility as human beings, to help those in need ourselves, has become any less instrumental than it previously was.


The general public has the undeniable ability to lift, even if it is so very slightly, the burden of responsibility that weighs so heavily on the shoulders of charitable organisations. Of course charities provide great support for those in need, but the need for real human interaction that remains arguably the most important factor for the betterment of the homeless, is often lost through broad projects. So, when we have such potential to help those who need it, why are we so persistent in our refusal to actualise it? Why do we, for the most part as a general population, choose to take the most elaborate of steps to avoid eye contact with those sleeping rough? 


When you next see a homeless person, take the time to scrutinize those walking past. You’ll be able to observe as suited individual after suited individual takes the calculated measures to curve their walking path in a manner that creates as much space between themselves and those in need of help as possible; without being blatantly obvious about their lack of care. Perhaps the weight of their wallets happens to cause an unconventional walking style that makes them incapable of walking within 5 feet of anybody unfortunate enough to find themselves living on the streets. Or maybe, the subconscious guilt of knowing they have the means to help someone who truly needs it, yet they still refuse to do so, is so troubling that they attempt to avoid it at all costs. I believe that the latter is more plausible.


The fact the charity adverts that greet our screens feel as though they are obliged to present homeless people in as bleak circumstances as possible, with the accompaniment of a melancholy violin, in order to elicit a temporarily sympathetic response from the viewer, is part of the issue. We shouldn’t need such an aggressive push in the direction of showing compassion to those in need; we should already be halfway there. Our society proceeds to be one built upon the stable but ultimately unforgiving foundations of self preservation. A foundation that causes the vulnerable to be left in a position where it feels as though they are battling an army with no support. 


Many assume that if they do choose to give help then it must be an idealised and unrealistic act, such as giving thousands to charity. Of course giving an arm and a leg would be unreasonable, but, in this instance at least, that is not what is being asked.  Rather, the next time you see a homeless person curled up on a piece of card, buy them a cup of tea or, better yet, talk to them. Remind them that there are people who care. Remind them that they are not alone. Who knows, you may even strike up an interesting conversation.


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George Robertson.