University of Sussex Media Release.
. Homeless Myths Debunked by Sussex Research

26th April 1999
For immediate release

Brighton has the highest number of homeless people per capita in the UK. Censuses taken since 1991 testify that there can be up to 66 people sleeping rough on any one night, often concentrated in small areas. The severity and visibility of the problem ensure that myths about the homeless abound in Brighton. Thanks to research by Sussex academic Jon May, these myths have now been shattered.

Dr May debunked widely-held assumptions about the lives of homeless people in Brighton with an exhaustive survey of their housing histories. "There has never been such an in-depth study of these processes before. This is the first time we've had a complete set of housing histories for homeless people." he says.

Dr May filled in a form for each night his respondents had been homeless, detailing the location - whether it was rough sleeping, a friend's floor or a hostel - and the length of stay. Some people filled in as few as three of these forms, some as many as 100. As Dr May explains: "From these histories you can trace exactly when, how often and for how long someone has been homeless, how much they've moved around and where they've been moving to, and what sort of accommodation they have been staying in."

Most research into homelessness only concentrates on people's experience of living rough in the present. Because Jon May's research builds up a complete picture of people's past experiences, it gives an insight into what really happens over a period of time. Contrary to popular expectations, people who become homeless once, or even several times, do not become entangled in a spiral of long-term homelessness, drug addiction, alcoholism and crime.

Dr May discovered that whilst around 16% of the sample were long-term homeless, by far the vast majority - around two-thirds of the sample - were 'episodically' homeless. These people had been homeless more than once, and often several times, in their lives, but they had also had periods of employment and secure housing in between, sometimes for many years. According to Dr May, "Episodic homelessness doesn't seem to be developing into permanent homelessness. The two groups appear to be very distinct."

Drug use, alcoholism and mental health problems are also rare among the episodically homeless. Only 10% of the episodically homeless in the sample were alcoholics or drug users. According to Dr May, the assumption that all homeless people have these social problems, and so are culprits in their own downfall, lets the real culprits off the hook. He argues that the real causes of homelessness are poverty and unemployment.

For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email s.l.hall@sussex.ac.uk, or Dr Jon May, School of Cultural and Community Studies, Tel. 01273 606755 ext 2187, email j.may@sussex.ac.uk.

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