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  • Writer's pictureSPRINT project

Hidden Homelessness Conference

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

On 25th February, the SPRINT project’s Director, Dr Jennifer Cumming, travelled to the Trades Hall in Glasgow, to attend the Hidden Homelessness Conference. The conference, which was free to attend, was hosted by NHS Health Scotland, The Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health and Shelter Scotland.

Chaired by Dr Neil Hamlet, the conference attracted people from a variety of sectors with the aims of:

  • raising awareness of the issues that people who are experiencing homelessness face

  • informing policy at a national level

  • exchanging knowledge

  • informing the development of new research projects

Presentations & workshops

Speakers came from far and near to deliver their presentations. A variety of topics relevant to homelessness were presented. For example:

  • mental and physical health

  • young people

  • women

  • social exclusion

  • LGBTQ+

  • migrant health

Before we go on to find out about Dr Cumming’s plenary presentation at the conference, let’s find out a bit about homelessness and, importantly, what we mean when we talk about hidden homelessness.

Presentations & workshops in detail

Dr Edith England from Cardiff University described her work using story telling methods to understand the experiences of homelessness for trans people.

She explained that pathways into homelessness are complex and there is a collapse of every support structure. There are periods of vulnerability when a person has come out as trans but is not yet embedded into the trans community.

Although there were lots of examples of good practice, it was evident that some trans people feared temporary accommodation and there are high rates of disengagement from services. By talking, services may start to better recognise that trans people often have the solutions they need, but need help to overcome barriers. Services are encouraged to seek training from local trans communities to improve understanding and reduce stigma.

A poignant workshop was run by Shelter Scotland alongside a photography exhibit to report on their work with people who have experienced homelessness and mental health problems.

The project used photovoice, enabling people to share their stories by taking pictures that are meaningful to them and using these as a tool to communicate what they think is wrong with the current systems and their solutions.

A former rough sleeper described the meaning behind a picture he took to demonstrate that everyone has two eyes but see different things. This helped to make the point that homeless rough sleepers can feel invisible on the streets.

People who experience homelessness want services to respond to them as real people; and there is value in their user experience to inform service design and changes.

In an academic session, Dr Emily Tweed from The University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Well-being reported the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis on ill-health of people experiencing multiple forms of social exclusion, including homelessness.

The evidence-base is mostly focused around infections and blood-borne viruses, which may not reflect the actual burden of ill health. A key finding was that multiple exclusions is associated with a 53% increased risk of all-cause mortality, indicating extreme health inequalities for those individuals.

Dr Tweed argued that services and policies are narrowly focused on single experiences or a limited range of conditions, but a more integrated approach may serve these populations better.

Workshops were run throughout the day covering issues such as contraceptive use of women experiencing homelessness, building more inclusive services for LGBT youth homelessness; and the impact of childhood sexual abuse on housing and health. These provided an exciting opportunity for those in the field to share their research findings and discuss important issues.

Reasons for homelessness

There are many reasons why a person might become homeless. These include:

  • Lack of affordable housing

  • Poverty

  • Unemployment

  • Significant life events

  • Domestic violence

  • Relationship breakdown

  • Leaving prison, care or the army

  • Mental or physical health problems

  • Substance misuse

Issues in homelessness

Some examples of issues faced by people experiencing homelessness include:

  • Reduced quality of life

  • Poor mental health

  • Isolation

  • Health inequalities

  • Complex trauma

  • Social inequalities

These issues have an impact upon people’s physical and mental wellbeing and affect society.

Some facts on homelessness

There are many risks involved for people who are experiencing homelessness:

  • The average life expectancy for homeless people is 44

  • Homeless people are more than 9 times as likely to end their life, compared to the general population

  • People who sleep on the streets are up to 17 times more likely to experience some form of violence

It is difficult to formalise the number of people experiencing homelessness. Figures from Crisis, the national homelessness charity, suggest that roughly 4, 751 people sleep rough per night in England. Last year, nearly 58, 000 households were registered as homeless in England; with over 34, 000 in Scotland and over 9, 000 in Wales.

So, we know that we can make a rough estimate as to the number of people experiencing homelessness each year. But what about those who slip through the cracks and don’t get noticed?

Hidden homelessness

Hidden homelessness refers to the fact that many people who experience homelessness are not counted in official figures. This is an issue because it suggests that homelessness is even more prevalent than we might think. It also challenges some people’s preconceptions that the only type of homelessness is sleeping rough.

‘(Hidden homelessness refers to) people who may be considered homeless but whose situation is not ‘visible’ either on the streets or in official statistics’ - Crisis (2020a)

There are many reasons why people may experience hidden homelessness. For example:

  • people may not be entitled to help with emergency housing

  • people may not seek help through available support services

  • people may find temporary housing solutions rather than permanent accommodation

Examples of places people may stay temporarily:

  • hostels

  • unsecure accommodation such as abandoned buildings

  • B&Bs

  • overcrowded accommodation

  • what we call ‘concealed housing’ , for example floors or sofas of friends/family

Hidden homelessness is an issue that affects young people across the UK. Each year, an estimated 150, 000 young people aged 16-25 are at risk for homelessness (Centrepoint, 2015). If we could include those experiencing hidden homelessness, the number would be even higher.

Dr Cumming was invited to present as the first speaker of the day at the Hidden Homelessness conference. The aims of the presentation were to outline the issues around homelessness in young people; and to explain what we have been doing to help to improve outcomes for young people.

Dr Cumming’s presentation

Dr Cumming delivered her plenary presentation, entitled ‘Improving resilience and employability outcomes of homeless young people with mental skills training’. You can click here to view a copy of the presentation.

In the presentation, Dr Cumming gave important background information concerning homelessness for young people in Scotland and the range of services working to address this.

Dr Cumming described the effects of homelessness and the challenges and multiple support needs young people have; before outlining our MST4Life™ programme in collaboration with St Basils, as a psychologically informed approach to working with young people.

The programme has successfully improved the wellbeing, resilience and employment, education and training opportunities for over 600 young people in the 6+ years that it has been running.

Dr Cumming spoke about our recently launched Mental Skills Training Toolkit and delivery guide.

Feedback from the day suggested that people were excited to download and use the toolkit. Some mentioned that they had already done so and were looking forward to using it with their service users.

It is hoped that through the toolkit, the SPRINT project team can support a variety of services in their use of a strengths-based approach to working with at-risk young people.

Experience of the conference

Speaking about the experience, Dr Cumming said:

‘It was a fantastic event bringing together diverse groups and services to hear about the wonderful work being done in Scotland to prevent and support people experiencing homelessness. I really appreciated the opportunity to not just share our work with St Basils to a new audience, but also find out more about the issues important to homelessness communities in Scotland. Lots of innovative and person-centred approaches are being used and there was a real sense of working with users rather than just for them’.


Want to find out more about homelessness in young people and the mental skills used by the SPRINT team? You can download our Mental Skills Training Toolkit and Delivery Guide, check out our resources and visit St Basils’ website.

To view Dr Cumming’s presentation, you can click here.

For further information on hidden homelessness, you can visit the Crisis website.


What are your favourite ways to support young people experiencing homelessness? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below, or on Twiiter using #MSTtoolkit #MST4Life



Photo credit

Dan Baker on Reshot

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