Early history

Homelessness as we understand it can trace its roots back many hundreds of years. Indeed, records suggest that a homelessness problem was identified as far back as the 7th Century, when laws were passed to punish vagrancy. Several hundred years later Edward I is thought to have ordered weekly searched for homeless people – or “vagrants”, as they came to be known. In a way these were the first outreach teams – although their motives were far from humanitarian.

The first effort of the State to accommodate and train – rather than punish – homeless people was in the 16th century that the state first tried to house vagrants rather than punish them. Insitiutions known as Briedewells were established – an early and equally unpleasant forerunner to the workhouses of the 18th and 19th Century.

The 20th century

Anyone has read Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell will be familiar with the term “Spike”. As successors to The Workhouse, Spikes were sparse and unhealthy boarding houses provided by the state. Indeed, it is believe that Orwell’s untimely death was linked directly to his time spent living in Spikes while researching poverty and social exclusion in Britain.

The establishment of the Welfare State after the Second World War, and the mass employment brought about by the conflict, did a great deal to tackle the issue of homelessness – removing many direct links between poverty and homelessness.

The nature of the debate changed in the 1960s, when then the number of people who were homeless and sleeping rough began to increase. Despite steady improvements to living standards across society, it was clear that people were slipping though established safety nets.

A major cultural influence of the time was the film Cathy Come Home – a pioneering television play about the journey of one family into homelessness. The film, which raised new awareness of the issue across the county, coincided with the establishment of several charities determined to help – organisations like Shelter and St Mungo’s. Indeed, Framework itself can trace its history back to this time. [link to our history]

Homelessness remained a significant area of public debate until the end of the century – particularly during the boom years of the early 1980s and the recession years of the early 1990s.

 The 21st Century

The approach to tackling homelessness has evolved greatly over the years, and has adapted to the many changes and trends witnessed by those organisations working to tackle and prevent it. A greater emphasis is now placed on prevention, and the quality of emergency accommodation for those people unfortunate enough to require it has changed beyond measure. Indeed, emergency (often referred to as hostel) accommodation is nothing like many people imagine it to be.

Framework has invested heavily in establishing a network of high quality individual rooms for residents. On most of our emergency accommodation sites residents live in a small flat, with its own kitchen and bathroom. We design our accommodation in this way because we recognise one fundamental truth: that tackling homelessness takes more than a roof over somebody’s head. A bed for the night is not a viable solution to any of the problems we work to resolve. Indeed, long-term change can only be achieved by treating people as individuals – by welcoming them to good quality accommodation they want to live in and providing them with a temporary home from which they can rebuild their lives.

*Thank you to St Mungo’s for their excellent work on the history of homelessness.