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Why do people relapse into rough sleeping?
St Mungo’s publish peer research into why some people return to rough sleeping after they have got off the streets.

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On my own two feet

An excellent new (2 July 2018) report from St Mungo’s examines the important question:

Why do some people return to sleeping rough after time off the streets?

The research was conducted by a group of peer researchers, through the St Mungo’s Recovery College and they identified four key areas for analysis:

  1. Push factors
  2. Pull factors
  3. Holes in the safety net
  4. Access to services.

The researchers make clear that factors from all of these categories can interact to create pressure on an individual.

The four categories are explored in more detail below.

Push factors

This group of factors relate mainly to the difficulties of finding a safe and homely place to live and include:

  • Being evicted (for rent arrears or for behaviour) or leaving temporary shelters when they close.
  • Being asked to leave after relationship breakdown (partner or family).
  • Leaving prison after a sentence or being held on remand.
  • Leaving accommodation because it didn’t meet needs (e.g. no couples, no pets) or was poor quality.
  • Leaving because of noise or anti-social behaviour, or excessive rules and regulations.
  • Leaving informal accommodation (sofasurfing) because of being asked to leave or feeling like a burden.
  • Leaving accommodation because of isolation and loneliness.
  • Escaping criminal victimisation (e.g. abuse or tenancy hijack).

Pull factors

Although rough sleeping is dangerous and unpleasant, there are nonetheless things which draw people back. Pull factors include:

  • Feeling competent in survival (compared to feeling incompetent managing a tenancy).
  • Knowing (how) you can meet your basic needs.
  • Feeling ‘addicted’ to the streets.
  • Freedom of living life free from rules/ constraints.
  • Life on the streets is busy and interesting (compared to boredom or loneliness or lack of occupation in accommodation).
  • Having people around (other rough sleepers, and members of the public showing care).
  • Being pulled back to dangerous/abusive relationships.

When push factors and pull factors work together, they can exert an irresistible pressure on someone, leading to them ‘choosing’ to return to rough sleeping, or seeing no alternative when a crisis comes along. Successful solutions to repeated rough sleeping must recognise both push and pull factors, otherwise they will fail to equip people to resist this pressure.

Holes in the safety net

Holes in the safety net are the missing protective factors that – if present – could help prevent a person returning to rough sleeping. They may not trigger rough sleeping episodes, but combine to weaken someone’s protection from it, so when a crisis or trigger happens, they are less able to avoid returning to the streets. Holes in the safety net include:

  • Having survived rough sleeping before.
  • Lacking a social network with resources to help (either having exhausted that option, or not having a family or friends who can help).
  • Trauma and unmet health needs, and lack of support with these.
  • Difficulties maintaining a tenancy (and lack of support with this), and not knowing legal rights.
  • Inability to secure a new tenancy (no deposit, landlords won’t take you, council won’t house you).

The research suggests that people who have slept rough before, are living in poverty and who do not have strong networks are at risk of returning to the streets when faced with a crisis, because they are less able to deal with problems that arise.

Accessing services can be hard

Rough sleepers interviewed by the peer researchers identified a number of factors which stopped them successfully getting help:
  • Demands are too high (e.g. around punctuality, abstinence, distance to travel).
  • Inconsistency from service providers (including not providing support they should).
  • Having experienced rejection in the past (potentially triggering memories of past trauma).


The report concludes with a series of eleven recommendations:

  1. The UK Government should provide sufficient funding, guidance and support to ensure local authorities commission high quality supported accommodation.
  2. Local authorities should commission high quality supported accommodation to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable to rough sleeping.
  3. The UK Government should remove access barriers to the private rental sector for people who have slept rough.
  4. The UK Government should reform tenants’ rights in line with Scotland.
  5. The UK Government must drive an increase in stable, long-term accommodation for people who have slept rough.
  6. Local authorities should ensure that everyone who has slept rough has access to tenancy sustainment support for as long as they need it.
  7. Support services and local authorities should build tenants’ awareness of legal rights and sources of support.
  8. Service providers should support people who have slept rough to build long-term resilience to life’s ups and downs.
  9. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government must work together to prevent prison leavers returning to the streets by improving screening and support.
  10. Homelessness service providers must have adequate policies to deal with domestic abuse.
  11. Homelessness service providers supporting people in tenancies must ensure that staff are adequately trained to recognise and respond to threatened or ongoing tenancy hijack, including advocating for their client in any police investigation or landlord action.


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