Being homeless means not having a secure home. This includes being street-attached or being vulnerably housed (living in temporary or insecure housing such as hostels, night shelters, B&Bs, or ‘sofa surfing’).

People may also be regarded as homeless if their home environment presents a risk to their safety – for example because of the risk that they will experience harm or because of poor living conditions.

People can become homeless for many reasons including financial troubles, mental health difficulties, physical illness, domestic violence, relationship breakdown, addiction or bereavement. People may choose to leave their home in order to protect the safety and welfare of themselves or others.

Vulnerability to exploitation

If someone becomes homeless they may find it difficult to care for and protect themselves and cope with existing life challenges. Lacking safety, security, privacy and the support networks of friends and family, they may become particularly vulnerable to violence, abuse, crime and exploitation.

People may offer them money, shelter, company, food, drugs or alcohol as a means to groom them into an exploitative situation. These groomers may include drug dealers and criminal gangs.

The lack of safety, security and support networks associated with homelessness may mean that these forms of exploitation are accompanied by high levels of violence.

Examples of exploitative situations which may be encountered by people who are homeless include:

  • being forced to beg by local gangs who take most of the earnings for themselves
  • being forced to engage in sexual acts in return for accommodation, money or food
  • someone with a substance dependency being exploited by drug gangs and dealers, who force them to buy drugs – attempts to stop buying drugs or being unable to provide payment may lead to violence.

People experiencing homelessness may struggle to access help and support or may be reluctant to do so.  Engaging with support services and transitioning away from homelessness can be challenging, and during this time people remain highly vulnerable to exploitation.