History of homelessness

Early history

For as long as historical records have been kept, Britain has had a homelessness problem. As far back as the 7th century, the English king Hlothaere passed laws to punish vagrants. William the Conqueror forbade anyone to leave the land where they worked. Edward the First ordered weekly searches to round up vagrants. Read more about early homeless history.

The 20th century

The successor to the workhouse was the spike (dormitory housing provided by local boroughs), which was familiar to George Orwell, who stayed in them while researching poverty in Britain. Some of the more punitive aspects of the workhouses were missing from spikes, but the standard of housing was basic. In the 1930s there were 17,000 people in spikes in the country, and 80 homeless people were found sleeping rough during a street count in London. Read more on 20th century homelessness.

The roots of contemporary homelessness

By the 1980s around 20,000 people were living in accommodation for homeless single people in London (now provided by charities and housing associations rather than the state). Yet numbers of homeless people sleeping on the streets had risen to more than 1,000. Read more about the roots of homelessness.

The current picture

Much good work has been done. St Mungo's is involved in London with the No Second Night Out initiative as part of the London Delivery Board and is hosting the hub for this.

But homeless and vulnerable people must not be the casualties of cuts to Supporting People (SP) funding, and tough cuts to services could halt homeless people's recovery and lead to more rough sleepers on the streets.