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Following interviews with a sample of homeless people in four North West cities/towns, researchers found that poverty and homelessness are intertwined.

The paper, ‘Homelessness is socially created: Cluster analysis of social detriments of Homelessness (SODH) in North West England in 2020,’ has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The paper can be read here

By speaking face-to-face with 152 randomly selected homeless people in Liverpool, Manchester, Chester and Crewe, the team led by Andi Mabhala, Professor of Public Health Epidemiology in the University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care, found that poverty creates social conditions that increase the likelihood of homelessness.

These social conditions include exposure to traumatic life experiences; social disadvantages such as poor educational experiences; being raised in a broken family, care homes or foster care; physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect at an early age. Experiencing any of these conditions can reduce people’s ability to negotiate through life challenges. Analysis showed that having parents with a criminal record; care history and a history of child neglect or abuse were also predictive of homelessness.

The researchers looked at how poverty sets up a chain of interactions between these social conditions that increase the likelihood of poor outcomes in life with homelessness at the end of this chain. The researchers, who included Professor John Reid; Chinwe Enyinna (Research Assistant) and former students Winifred Esealuka and Amanda Nwufo, who all studied on the Master’s in Public Health programme, believe that interventions to support families rise out of poverty may help to reduce the number of people who become homeless and break this chain.

The estimated number of homeless people in the North West was approximately 9,038 at the time of this study (December 2020). The principal investigator, Professor Mabhala, has carried out research into homelessness for many years and carried out the questionnaires face-to-face as homeless people are often found to have a lower level of literacy. The research was funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

Across the world homeless people are materially poor, however homelessness is higher among those who have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse; physical and/or psychological neglect; witnessing domestic abuse; having a close family member who misused drugs or alcohol, served time in prison and/or mental health problems and parental separation or divorce. Homelessness is also a result of social causes such as unevenly distributed, inadequate or absent low-cost housing, educational and employment opportunities, income support and social benefits. Poverty is the common factor in both individual and structural causes of homelessness.

In this North West study, the average age of the 152 who took part was 39; there were more males (63 %) than females; most were unmarried (91%) with 31% living on the street; 21% in temporary accommodation and 19% in hostels. Among them, 86% smoked tobacco daily and 80% used drugs daily with 61.2% describing their health as poor. Analysis from this group revealed that the most significant factors to becoming homeless were drug and/or alcohol dependence; eviction due to criminal activity; loss of job and being imprisoned.

Professor Mabhala said: “The results of the modelling from the research team reveal that adverse childhood experiences impact on an adult’s ability to gain the necessary tools and freedom to participate successfully in society and erode a person’s resilience to life challenges. Without learning positive coping mechanisms adults can then adopt behaviours such as alcoholism or drug addiction which in turn lead to loss of employment and the breakdowns in the relationships that surround them.

“Reducing poverty could prove to be a strategy to reduce both adverse childhood experiences and homelessness.”

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