Rural homelessness can look very different to homelessness in large towns and cities. Although the root causes of homelessness are similar wherever it is experienced, a striking feature of homelessness in the countryside is its lack of visibility, which can lead people to believe that the problem does not exist across their communities. 

It’s very difficult to count just how many people in rural areas are experiencing homelessness. One problem is that the dispersed nature of rough sleeping in rural areas makes quantification difficult, with people tucked away in places like garages, sheds and out-houses, churchyards, barns, parks, fields and woods. A few years ago a study of rough sleeping in North Lincolnshire identified much higher levels of this form of homelessness than official counts suggested was the case, and set out a number of ways that rural communities could help to identify levels of homeless in their areas. Closer to home, and much more recently, Ryedale District Council highlighted exactly this issue across some of the rural parts of Yorkshire North and East Methodist District. Between July 2019 and January 2020 this council identified thirty individuals who were at risk of rough sleeping or had actually slept rough in Ryedale and worked with them to resolve their homelessness. In that time period official statistics noted one rough sleeper across Ryedale’s area[i].

Another feature of homelessness in the countryside is that people are more likely to be doubling up with other households by staying with friends or family compared with urban areas. Again, this makes it difficult to appreciate the numbers involved. Often described as ‘sofa surfers’, this group are living in very precarious and temporary housing circumstances, and their experiences have only been made worse by the lockdowns due the Covid19 pandemic.

Overlaying the problem of homelessness is the very limited availability of affordable housing in rural areas and the high demand for housing that pushes house prices and rents way beyond the reach of many people on modest incomes. The latest York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Housing Strategy highlighted the extent to which house prices were above the level which would be considered ‘affordable’ for households on lower incomes. House price to income ratios were particularly high in the rural areas of Richmondshire, Ryedale, Hambleton and Harrogate, as well as North York Moors National Park.  

Tackling homelessness and the wider affordable housing shortage in rural areas has led to some truly innovative and specialist approaches. A feature of this response is an emphasis on the way that rural communities themselves can take the lead as part of the solution, and this includes ongoing activity across North and East Yorkshire. One of the distinctive approaches that has emerged in recent years is the role of Rural Housing Enablers. These specialists provide independent support and advice to local communities and provide a link for communities with other parties such as developers and the local authorities. Rural Housing Enablers are a tremendous resource for people in the countryside who want to take forwards affordable housing within their communities, and this includes the rural areas of our District.

Examples have emerged across the country in places like Keswick, Ambleside and Hale that demonstrate the role that Methodist churches can play in supporting affordable housing. These examples are inspiring because they show that in spite of the barriers and complexities involved, we can be part of a future that helps to sustain vibrant village and market town communities for people whatever their background or income

[i] See page 35 of Ryedale’s latest draft homelessness and rough sleeping review and strategy, 2020-2025

This is part of a series of blogs in the run-up to the Sleep Out For Homelessness event on January 23rd 2021 being run by our District Children and Youth team. Find out more about the Sleep Out for Homelessness event here:


The impact of homelessness on the health and wellbeing of children

Tackling the impact of homelessness on children remains an ongoing and deeply entrenched problem. Shelter estimated that on Christmas Day last year there were at least 135,000 children in Great Britain who were homeless and living in temporary accommodation. Homelessness can have diverse and wide-ranging impacts on the physical and mental health of children and babies. York’s Homelessness Strategy notes that children who have been homeless and in temporary accommodation are three times more likely to demonstrate mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and are at greater risk of infections and accidents.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and the potential for homelessness in later life

There is also mounting evidence of the way that negative and traumatic experiences in childhood can have a lasting impact right through people’s lives. Crucially, there is a link between how adverse experiences in childhood can shape the potential risk of experiencing homelessness in adult life

A lot of attention has focused on adverse childhood experiences, which describe highly stressful and potentially traumatic events or situations that can occur in childhood or adolescence such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or living with someone who has abused alcohol or drugs, for example.  One national study has mapped the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences across England and we can look at how levels of adverse childhood experiences vary across our District. Hull is one of the areas of the country where children are more likely to have experienced a range of traumatic experiences. The annual report of the Director of Public Health for North Yorkshire has also looked in detail at child poverty within our area.

Violence in the home is one of many such issues that can impact on children. The number of calls to helplines that deal with domestic violence has escalated during Covid19 pandemic. However, one of the characteristics of domestic violence is the extent to which people do not report what they  are experiencing, and this is something that that has been noted across parts of our own District. The issue is the subject of current national policy attention and the Domestic Abuse Bill is moving towards its second reading in the House of Lords. There has also been a recognition that as a Church we can do more, and as I write this blog the Connexion is holding its first Domestic Abuse Webinar next week. Nevertheless, organisations like Action for Children have highlighted not only the impact of domestic violence on children, but also the patchy response that is available to tackle this issue across the country.  

Some groups of young people are at particular risk of homelessness. Action for Children has drawn attention repeatedly to the fact that young people who have been in care continue to cope with the lasting impact of a traumatic childhood and yet care leavers are expected to live in their own accommodation at a far earlier age than other young people.

But it’s not just in relation to housing that care leavers face huge challenges. As one person with lived experience of the care system also highlighted, care leavers have to cope with the upheaval of transitioning from care and making their way in independent accommodation at exactly the same time as they are working towards critical exam qualifications. As an aside perhaps it’s worth reflecting on how far churches in a post Covid19 world could play a role providing safe spaces for learning not just for care leavers but also for young people living in very insecure and/or overcrowded housing situations.

Homelessness has diverse and multiple consequences for people of all ages, including children, but sometimes it’s the details that strike home. One thing that has stayed with me are the words of a homeless support worker who told me that one thing they tried to do while they were helping families to deal with the immediate crisis of losing their homes was to make time to sit down with children, and to provide the space for them to talk and grieve for the family pets they had just been forced to give up.

In looking to the future we can highlight current partnerships between Methodism and organisations that support young people. With their origins in Methodist mission, Action for Children do fantastic work to protect and support children and young people. Not only do they help to build the evidence base of the challenges facing children and young people and how we can respond, but also provide practical and emotional care and support, as well as campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. We can do what we can to be with people and help them overcome homelessness when it happens. But we can also be part of helping to prevent homelessness, which can mean going right back to tackling some of the root causes.

This is part of a series of blogs in the run-up to the Sleep Out For Homelessness event on January 23rd 2021 being run by our District Children and Youth team. Find out more about the Sleep Out for Homelessness event here:


Young people are at particular risk of homelessness and insecure housing. Both academic researchers and frontline agencies have set out the complex reasons that combine to expose many young people to vulnerable housing situations.  Organisations like Centrepoint highlight not only the causes of youth homelessness, but detail how these factors lead to a different experience for each and every young person that they support.

We can begin to get some idea of the extent of youth homelessness by looking at the number of young people who make a request for help to local authorities. Although there’s inevitably a bit of a lag with the availability of statistics, Centrepoint provide a databank so that it’s possible look at the situation across the local authorities that operate within the Yorkshire North & East Methodist District. To give one example, in 2018/2019, 169 young people approached Harrogate Borough Council with a request for help with homelessness. Notably, all of them were offered support by this authority, and 119 had positive outcomes, including housing.  Whilst local authorities have a key role to play in tackling this issue, however, a characteristic feature of youth homelessness is that much of it remains hidden, and does not show up in official figures.

Across our own District organisations like SASH do incredible work with young people who are experiencing homelessness. Rather than providing hostel accommodation, SASH draw on a network of volunteer hosts who provide either emergency Nightstop accommodation or supported lodgings for young people who need a longer term option. The accommodation provides a safe environment in the hosts’ own homes, where one to one support can also be offered by a SASH project worker.  A number of young people have shared their experiences of dealing with homelessness as well as moving on and making new opportunities via SASH.

Scarborough is the busiest area for SASH, and where they have the highest number of young people in supported accommodation. The scale of youth homelessness across our District is such that SASH currently has a shortage of hosts, especially in the Scarborough area, and new volunteers are always welcome. Although SASH work with people up to the age of 25, a statistic that gives pause is that about half the young people they work with are aged 16 to 17. A stark fact remains that frontline agencies that help young people with homelessness first come into contact with many of them when they are still officially children. One of the main problems with addressing youth homelessness is its invisibility. The hidden nature of youth homelessness leads people to believe that there isn’t a problem within their own communities. But whether we see it or not, it’s there, and young people need our help like never before.

This is part of a series of blogs in the run-up to the Sleep Out For Homelessness event on January 23rd 2021 being run by our District Children and Youth team. Find out more about the Sleep Out for Homelessness event here:


Living with homelessness this winter

The Sleep Out for Homelessness event on January 23rd 2021 will help to raise funds for Carecent in York, and SASH. Short for ‘Safe and Sound Homes’, SASH operates across a large geographical area and provides services to prevent youth homelessness right across the Yorkshire North & East Methodist District. Nationally, the last few months have seen huge shifts in provision for rough sleepers, and services on the ground have had to adapt quickly in order to provide safe options for people experiencing this form of homelessness. Recent trends have also thrown into sharp relief how the wider experience of homelessness is much more than what we see in terms of visible rough sleeping. Escalating levels of domestic violence during the pandemic have exposed many more individuals to the risks of homelessness. Goodness only knows how the hidden homeless of sofa surfers coped during the lockdown.

At the same time a recent article in the Lancet has drawn attention to the particular risks that COVID19 poses for homeless people this coming winter and what this means for accommodation and support services over the next few months. The urgency of the situation is reflected in the announcement last week of a new call for evidence by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee which will look at homelessness and consider what additional support may be needed over the winter months and following the increase in infection rates.

How are churches responding to homelessness?

Recent attention on homelessness by the Joint Public Issues Team (made up of the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church) has made sure that people who have experienced homelessness are at the centre of discussions about how churches can be part of the solutions.  From Harrogate to Hull and Selby to Scarborough, there’s already a fantastic range of work all around our own District both within and between churches, and the challenge is how we build on this work going forwards. In this respect the response within our own area is replicated right across the Connexion and there have been three Methodist Homelessness and Housing Gatherings this year to share and learn from our experiences of the current crisis.  But these meetings are also thinking about how churches respond in the future and how we can be part of a bigger picture of tackling homelessness locally and nationally in the coming years. We have been challenged to think much more broadly about how we might also work in partnership with other agencies to prevent homelessness, as well as supporting how people move on from homelessness. That is, how churches can be part of people’s recovery and reconnection within communities.  The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community will soon be publishing a toolkit to support how churches might further respond in their areas and build upon the work already going on. Once this ‘how to’ toolkit is available, we will be hosting an event over the District to look at what this means for us in our own contexts and how it might help to shape our own responses to homelessness within our communities.

Exploring homelessness

In the run up to the Sleep Out for Homelessness we’ll look in more detail at some of the particular issues facing homeless people. Over the next few weeks we’ll feature a series of blogs that will explore:

  • youth homelessness;
  • some of the issues that contribute to the risk of homelessness in childhood;
  • the hidden nature of homelessness especially in the rural areas of our District.
  • contributions from Carecent and SASH,
  • how we might respond locally as individuals and churches going forwards into 2021.

The timing of the Sleep Out for Homelessness in January reminds us that whilst Christmas is often a time that grabs the headlines about homelessness, winter is a long season for anyone living in precarious and vulnerable housing situations or rooflessness.

Find out more about the Sleep Out for Homelessness event here: