Wandering with intent

February 12, 1999

The popular perception of the homeless as aimless wanderers or vagrants is unfounded, says research from Sussex University.

Jon May, lecturer in geography at the university's school of cultural and community studies, has been studying the histories of men living in hostels in a large south coast resort in a bid to understand how people end up homeless. He says the majority are long-term unemployed who have spent time in insecure private accommodation. "Most have been homeless again and again," said Dr May. They are usually homeless for a number of months before finding private rented accommodation.

"Many have never had a job. They occasionally are able to rent houses in the private sector, but then something happens, such as a relationship split. These people have a lack of resources to help them in times of crisis and so become homeless."

But Dr May said homeless people do not just wander around aimlessly or follow some kind of "hostels circuit". He found a minority of people who were making a career of wandering. These tended to be older homeless people who had been in hostels or sleeping rough for many years. "Even they seem to go to places that were significant to them before they became homeless rather than just wandering aimlessly from place to place," he said.

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