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Relational Poverty - The main cause of homelessness

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Homelessness has many causes but at the heart of is relational poverty and a lack of a network of positive supporting relationships.

Following on from the findings of the St Mungo’s report on why people are returning to sleeping rough, this article looks at how relational poverty is in our opinion the main reason that people end up homeless.

Poverty can affect people’s lives in many different ways and is so much more than just being on the bread line with people often facing multiple complex issues. The church urban fund breaks down poverty into three main areas as part of their web of poverty:


We believe that poverty of resources and identity are often - maybe more often than not - a direct result of poverty of relationships.

Statutory homelessness statistics from the ministry of housing in 2008, which are corroborated by current figures from Wolverhampton local authority put the following as the top three reasons cited for homelessness:

  1. 1. Loss of assured shorthold tenancy
  2. 2. Friends, family relatives no longer able to provide accommodation (so called sofa surfing)
  3. 3. Domestic Violence

The first of these reasons has more to do with cuts to benefits and a lack of affordable, sustainable accommodation (this was the case 5 years ago and austerity has continued to have its impact with reduced housing benefit and increased rents in the private sector year-on-year - http://blog.shelter.org.uk/2013/03/renters-lose-their-homes/)

The others stem fundamentally from relational poverty. For the vast majority of readers of this article, at a point of crisis which could potentially adversely affect our housing situation we would have someone to turn to. This could be friends, family, church or other assistance. Through our relational network, we would find some way of preventing the situation from escalating out of our control or would know someone who could help to prevent the worst. But what happens if you have no-one to turn to. This is where the situation can rapidly deteriorate. If you find yourself isolated at a point of crisis and are not in a position to access material assistance or at the very least wise counsel things can very quickly go from bad to worse and you find yourself in a downward spiral that only stops when you hit rock bottom.

What makes matters even more complicated is that the issue is not just about not having positive relationships around you but often of being incapable of forming those healthy relationships in the first place. Having worked to tackle poverty for a number of years, we have encountered so many individuals who as a result of adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) suffer from reactive attachment disorders which can easily prevent them from forming healthy attachments and building positive networks of support around them. When life has taught you - through abuse or neglect by those who are meant to care for you the most – that people cannot be trusted and everyone always leaves, you naturally have a tendency to protect yourself by not letting anyone get close and actively pushing away those who try.

One of our former tenants who we have tried to help numerous times over the last 7 years has been put down by his parents his whole life telling him that he will never amount to anything and that he is a waste of space. He struggles with all aspects of poverty including lack of self-worth, poor mental health, poor education, low income, drug misuse …etc. The root cause of all of this is his poverty of relationships. All of these issues started in his childhood as a result of poor parenting, breakdown of the family unit and the things that his parents have engrained in him. Consequently every time things start to go well for him, he self-sabotages and ensures that he lives up to his parents’ expectations. He is stuck in a cyclical pattern of lack of mental well-being, self-esteem and substance misuse that directly impacts upon his capacity to maintain a tenancy. When things start to devolve he ends up falling below the housing line again and he is back on the streets.

It is not however always quite so stark. We have also housed individuals whose network of support was based around a single relationship, the breakdown of which can then quickly lead to homelessness. Another of our former tenants suffered a breakdown in his marriage and owing to other circumstances and again a lack of a network of support around him had nowhere to turn. Fortunately for him, on the day when he found himself at risk of becoming street homeless, he came across our path and we were able to provide the assistance that he needed. This involved in particular providing a safe space and supportive relationships for him to work at his marriage. He was later able to reconcile with his wife and move back home.

As human beings we are made to live in community and rely upon one another however traditional family values and community have been progressively eroded in a more and more individualistic society that values things above people and floor space above relationships. It follows on from this that making homelessness history requires rebuilding a sense of community not just around individuals in crisis but throughout our streets, neighbourhoods and cities.