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Homelessness in London looks different for everybody. It might be most visible as the person you see on the street, but it is much bigger than that.

What does homelessness look like?

Someone is homeless if they do not have a secure or reliable place to live – beyond that, people’s circumstances vary greatly. There are three common forms of homelessness that it is helpful to understand.

Rough sleeping

The most visible, and often most dangerous type of homelessness. This is when people have nowhere at all to stay and are sleeping outside or in public spaces. People sleeping rough are the most likely to experience trauma or fall victim to crime.

Hidden homelessness

Less obvious, but more common than rough sleeping. People experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’ have nowhere reliable to stay, but are not necessarily on the streets. Instead they find informal arrangements like sofa surfing, living with friends, or staying in unregistered accommodation. People in this situation can be at risk of abuse or exploitation.

This situation is particularly common for young people, women, and people who have been trafficked into London. It is difficult to assess how many people fall into this category, as they rarely show up in surveys, research or official records.

Temporary accommodation

When someone has made a homelessness application to a local council and been deemed in priority need of housing, the council may place them in  temporary accommodation if they have nothing else available. This might be a private flat, a B&B or a hostel. The quality of this accommodation in London varies significantly, and people can find themselves there for years if nothing permanent becomes available. In 2023 official figures stated that 60,580 households in London lived in temporary accommodation.

What causes homelessness?

The causes of homelessness are unique to each person. They vary considerably, from family breakdown to financial instability, mental health issues, addiction and more. Our own research has found that a significant proportion of the people we work with have experienced childhood trauma, but this is not always the case.

To support people impacted by homelessness we must understand their individual circumstances, in order to help them address the specific challenges that they face.

Read more about the current scale of homelessness in London here.

Find out more about how you can help if you see someone who is sleeping rough here.

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