Homeless In Cambridge: Part 1

Why is homeless such a big problem here in Cambridge? ENQI CHANG investigates in the first of our new series on homelessness.

For many of us, our only contact with homelessness is the awkward avoidance of the Big Issue sellers’ eyes and the occasional disappointing moment when the celebrity interview turns out to be half a page long. But whilst we all know it’s a big problem in Cambridge, few of us really know why. To lift the lid on the problem, The Tab has written a short series on homeless in conjunction with some of the leading charities in the city. Our first part looks at why homelessness is such a problem in Cambridge.

As embedded into the Cambridge landscape as the centuries-old buildings are the Big Issue sellers and the homeless. Tucked in their nooks and crannies, we see them as we dash to lectures and supervisions and occasionally we spare some pennies (if they haven’t all gone in wine).

48,510 individuals were officially declared homeless across England last year: an increase of 14% from 2010. And because of the government’s hard-line stance on reducing homelessness this is often seen as an understatement. In Cambridge the problem is particularly acute.

The causes of homelessness are complex: some are specific to Cambridge, others are more personal. Typical problems are a lack of qualifications, poor mental or physical health, alcohol or substance abuse; family factors might be a dysfunctional family background, a previous experience of family homelessness, or being refused accommodation by a family. Institutional factors include having been in prison or in the armed forces. The cause most often cited is being refused accommodation by a family member, and Jane Heaney, Operations Manager at Jimmy’s Night Shelter in Cambridge, cites a breakdown in family relations as the main reason given by individuals who walk in.

Structural causes were key starting factors of homelessness in Cambridge. It developed in the 1960s, because of slum clearance and a decrease in the availability of private rented housing. There was also the closing down of many mental institutions, resulting in large numbers of previously institutionalised individuals requiring housing.

In the 1980-1990s, this worsened as prices of housing increased, and the structure of housing benefit changed. With rising unemployment, people were less able to rent or purchase housing.

The homeless not only have to deal with a lack of food, health-care or security, but also battle with the merciless cold, wind and recently, rain – particularly when our Junes are as bad as this one. In the past year, according to Cambridge Link-up, 20 members of the homeless community have passed away; and more than 70 over the last few years. Others who may be physically or mentally disabled may often be targets of abuse or have their collections stolen.

Numerous agencies and shelters such as St Mungo’s and Shelter have sprung up in Cambridge and across the United Kingdom to attempt to reduce the number of homeless people as much as possible. But can homelessness ever be eradicated?

In the second part of this feature, we shall be taking a look at what exactly has been done to tackle homelessness in Cambridge, and what outlook there is for homelessness in the future. It’s not all grim news, despite the weather.

The information about homelessness in Cambridge was taken from a publication by Anna Clarke, a member of the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) within the Department of Land Economy, in conjunction with the Cambridge Cyrenians. The publication is available from the Cambridge Cyrenians, or downloadable from the CCHPR website.

  • could have just read


    • cheers

      for that.

  • Okay I like article

    Good idea, but article too short. Seriously though, more of this sort of stuff please Tab.

  • another view

    as someone who has reccently come to the conclusion of an assault case (where I was the victim) at the hand of a homeless person. I would contend that the article requires a bit more balance.To anyone less than adonis like in physique homeless people can be a menance. Before anyone suggests that I am taking 1 case to extremes, I have had 4 instances this year alone in cambridge, where I have been threatened by homeless people, not after change, but paper money, now as someone with crybral palsy this temporarily forced me to give up walking in favour of a wheelchair for safety, I can also add that according to the police, the 3 individuals involved over the 4 instances were all renouned drug addicts. They also go on to say that the reason cambridge has so many homeless people is the services already provided here. Now I am not saying all such serivces should be removed, but that more should be available within the law to deal with those who are genuinely threatening (I dont mean all homeless people either) I case you are wondering the sentance my last attacker received was a fine, piontless and despite longer than the wall of china. The article deals with a hot topic but does so in a bleeding heart not realistic way. Homeless people cannot be universally pitied, some are a real frightening menance.

    • http://cambridgetab.co.uk/ TabEditor


      This is a really interesting story, and something we'd be up for in including as a counterbalance if you'd be interested. Please do send me an email on editor@cambridgetab.co.uk.



  • Ruth Graham

    Typical Tab, wasting space and focusing on men's issues. Did you know that roughly 70% of the homeless population is male? Thank GOODNESS! We should only worry about helping the 30% who are female, since they're clearly only on the street because of the PATRIARCHY and our nation's institutional SEXISM!


    • Guest

      This comment is more predicatable and boring than the article.

  • the bit in bold

    made me laugh ha

  • shocker

    ''The homeless not only have to deal with a lack of food, health-care or security, but also battle with the merciless cold, wind and recently, rain '' -oh, really? I had no idea that was what being HOMELESS involved. come on.

    This article offers no real insight. Does not do justice to the cause.

  • Yeah

    This was a perfectly decent article, and homelessness is an important issue. It's even nice to see that the Tab has a heart. But to be honest, this isn't why people read the it, and I think the Tab should stick to what it does best: light-hearted Cambridge news.

  • Empathy central

    This article was too dry. We aren't city councillors. We're students, emotionally driven and with the attention span of a goldfish.

    The tab should be going for a more emotional angle on stories like this – human interest innit. Interviews with homeless people, going down to the flack offices, even having an article written by a homeless person (see flack – several people would be good for this, one was published in the guardian not so long ago) etc. Something to make people think rather than be numbed by faceless (if meaningful) statistics and history.

  • Guest

    I have volunteered at homeless shelters in Cambridge and I'm suprised this article is so short and one-sided since you say that you have been working with homeless charities. The whole issue is a lot more complex, you need the perspectives of the homeless and the people that volunteer with them. I know for a fact that many homeless people I have worked with would be quite annoyed by this article because it shows them as some kind of desperate underclass that want to be pitied, when in fact they just want to live a normal life and get out of their situation. We all know lots of people are homeless and the various reasons for it but implying how guilty everyone should feel just doesn't work. As a society we need to do something about it and actively get involved in making an active change, rather than just buying a big issue and feeling sorry for them. I'm looking forward to how you address this in the second part of the article but I feel that the first part was quite unnecessary and will draw people away from reading the second.

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