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Tackling homelessness: the need for a personal approach

The UK’s housing crisis is a universal problem, with an inadequate supply of high quality, affordable homes leading to rising levels of homelessness and people living in unsuitable accommodation. Home ownership is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and for many is now only a pipedream.

It can be easy to think homelessness will never directly impact you. However, trauma, family breakdown and the housing crisis can bring it closer than you might think.

During my career, I’ve met many people who prove that anyone can become homeless. One example is Brian*, a senior executive in the oil industry working in business development. His work took him all over the world resulting in some fabulous anecdotes. But running in parallel was the story of how his lifestyle of wining and dining, infidelity and a lack of time at home gradually escalated to severe alcoholism, relationship breakdown, separation, redundancy and finally homelessness.

By the time I met him in Cambridge in 2002, he was in his sixties (but looked eighty) drank a bottle of vodka a day and had no contact with anyone he loved or cared about.

I’ve spent the last three months on secondment with Big Society Capital helping to develop a better understanding of how investment can benefit charities and non-profits who are improving the lives of people like Brian in the UK. One thing that has become clear to me is that loss of ‘social capital’ (intangible assets which make us resilient to the lumps and bumps of life), are one of the key contributors that could make any one of us homeless. Social capital can include:

  • a supportive network of friends and family
  • the ability to partake in interests such as music or sport which ‘keep us sane’
  • personal characteristics such as good health

An investment in affordable housing, with skilled support alongside for those people who require it can help to increase the social capital of each beneficiary of the service. This translates into better resilience and an improved ability not only to cope with life, but to thrive.

One example I’ve seen in my time at Big Society Capital so far is the Real Lettings Property Fund, which achieves impact by making  properties available for those who need housing, supporting them as they make the transition and, ultimately, enabling them to move-on to stable homes. Many of their tenants have cultivated friendships with their neighbours and have had positive experiences of meeting people locally. Also, 76% of tenants say that the Real Lettings property has had a positive impact on their support networks1.

At Big Society Capital we are using social investment to provide high quality, safe, secure and affordable homes to help stop homelessness before it occurs. When doing this, it is important for us to partner with a broad range of charities, housing associations, developers and investors but it is also vital to speak with those who have lived experiences to better understand their needs.

To find out more about what Big Society Capital is doing to alleviate the housing crisis, or if you’d like to get in touch about a potential partnership, visit our Homes page.


*names changed

1 Real Lettings Property Fund Social Impact Report 2016/17 (pg. 24)

Last updated | 
10 July 2019


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