Heartbreak and homelessness

The end of a relationship is one of the most common causes of homelessness in the UK today.

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A 2022 report by Crisis showed people losing accommodation or facing homelessness due to relationship breakdown or domestic abuse accounted for just over half of all emergency housing applications in 2020/21 (53 per cent). This was an increase up by 14 per cent on previous years, exacerbated by Covid-19 measures to keep people indoors and isolated.

Our own data supports these findings; in our last vendor audit, 19 per cent of vendors classed as homeless cited a relationship breakdown as the reason.

“I first became homeless because I left my partner,” says Dave*, a vendor based in Sheffield. “It’s a long story and we don’t need to go there, but we split up and things went bad. I spent nine years living on the street.”

Peter*, a vendor also based in Sheffield, had a similar experience: “I thought my life had changed when I met my first partner. I had four kids with her. But then everything went wrong, and we split up and I lost my home, I lost my job, I lost everything… After that I was on the streets again and became addicted to heroin.”

In addition to the logistical and financial impact a relationship breakdown can have on housing arrangements, the emotional stress of a breakup can cause or intensify personal challenges that may also contribute to homelessness.

The emotional toll of a breakup is something that can be easy to dismiss – after all, many of us have experienced heartache and not become homeless. But the negative, painful feelings that we associate with a relationship breakdown can be incredibly damaging for someone who may already be vulnerable. Break-ups often cause an exacerbation of mental health problems or contribute to increased substance misuse, like Peter describes – both examples of issues that can see people struggle to hold on to accommodation.

For Alex*, a vendor who sells the magazine in Bolton, the trauma of unstable relationships had been a recurrent feature throughout his life: “I’ve been on and off the streets since I was 13,” he told us. “I had trouble at home – my father was abusive. I’d stopped selling the magazine the first time because I got a job. I had a wife and kids, and a place to live. But things fell apart again because my wife had an affair. It really screwed me up. So, I ended up back on the streets for two years, begging and busking to get by.”

Our vendors who have been through a traumatic break-up often describe feelings of loneliness and disconnection.  Beyond the loss of a romantic partner, the collateral the loss of a support network formed by friends or an ex-partner’s family can compound a sense of seclusion. One of the most documented denominators for homelessness is loneliness.

Worryingly, it’s this fear of being isolated or feeling lonely that means that living on the streets becomes a preferable option for some. Often people who have long-term experience of homelessness have become accustomed to that way of life, to the point that they can find themselves struggling to access to services that could help to keep them safe and build new, healthy relationships. “When I first got into my house, it took three years before I could stay a full week there,” explains Dave, “I used to go out and sleep rough on the streets for a few days every week… I was used to community, used to never being on my own.”

For vendors like Dave, Peter and Alex, selling The Big Issue provides an opportunity to start a new chapter, on their own terms and in their own time. It helps them to earn the money they need for a new home, while rebuilding their confidence and offering them a chance to connect with people.

“I have moved into a new flat,” Alex said, “and I am selling the magazine again so I can buy some furniture and get my life back together.”

Seven out of 10 vendors with experience of homelessness cite an increase in their confidence as one of the main benefits of selling the magazine. By supporting Big Issue North – through donations, subscribing to Street News or by buying The Big Issue from your local vendor – you are providing people with the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

*Vendors names were changed for this article.

Interact: Responses to Heartbreak and homelessness

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