World Homeless Day October 10, 2022

“You can’t change your history but you can change what happens tomorrow” – these are the words of Keystage Housing founder and CEO James O’Grady on World Homeless Day, as we play our part in tackling the stigma and raising awareness of homelessness.

The inaugural World Homeless Day was on October 10, 2010, and it has since been observed around the world every year since.

Its aims are to draw attention to the needs of people who experience homelessness locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an ‘international day’ provides – to end homelessness through improved policy and funding.

James hopes to help share insight this World Homeless Day about how easy it is to become homeless, and what you can do to help those who are homeless.

According to James, people typically become homeless because of one of three situations:

Financial decisions

A person can make a few bad financial decisions and become homeless. Offering an example, James said: “Someone might take on financial commitments such as a lease out for a car and at the time they have a job. But then if they lose their job, they still have this and other overheads such as a mortgage, and things could become difficult quite quickly.

“People often bury their heads in the sand and then the debts mount up. They end up losing the transport because they haven’t paid the lease. If they are a single person they will go to the very bottom of the pile for local authority housing due to ‘priority’ (The charity ‘Shelter’ have some extremely useful information on their site if you or someone you know is struggling to navigate the local authority application system.)

“That person may have made financial decisions in good times but they don’t have enough experience to know what to do when their circumstances change. Many people will hold on, believing and hoping that things will get better, meanwhile getting deeper and deeper into debt.”


Many homeless people have suffered some sort of trauma in their life. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 80% of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues, with 45% having been diagnosed with a mental health condition. But while evidence shows there is a considerable link between homelessness and mental health problems, this link is often overlooked.

“For some, trauma could have lasted for a long time and they have been in and out of services for much of their life. They might have the belief bestowed that they can never move on past that situation,” said James.

He believes that those suffering from trauma are being failed by statutory services, explaining: “Unless they meet a certain criteria, they often can’t access support. So, someone who is self-medicating by using drugs or alcohol won’t be supported by some statutory services. There are systemic failures whereby the system doesn’t allow for people self-medicating. But they haven’t had any help to deal with life’s events and they don’t know how to deal with them.

“Unless someone gets off drugs or alcohol, they often can’t access the services they need to move forward. But that’s an oxymoron.”

Explaining further, James added that someone dealing with trauma may become addicted to drugs or alcohol, with the addiction overriding and becoming more important than anything else in their life, including having a roof over their head. “Addiction overrides all reasonable behaviour,” he said, adding: “The addiction is going to be the priority and that will be put above having a bed to sleep in.”

At Keystage, we are working to break this vicious cycle by offering individual support services to homeless people.

“It’s about recognising that someone doesn’t have the ability to change overnight,” said James. “Support services need to be there however many times that needs to happen. We will only ever take whoever that person is in front of us as they are today. You can’t change your history but you can change what happens tomorrow.

“We work to build trust and form a relationship with these individuals, because they will have been failed time and again. They are self-medicating to get through life because of the trauma they have suffered and they have been failed by a system based on laws that are more than 400 years old, which allows them to fall through the cracks. That’s what we are referring to when we talk about the revolving door of homelessness.”

Prison leavers

Statistics released by the government show that in 2019-2020, 12,090 people came out of prison into homelessness. There was a fall the following year from 2020-2021 to 7,554 people, partly because of the government’s Covid-19 Emergency Accommodation Scheme.

However, James said that homelessness following prison is a result of systemic failures in our country’s systems and the problem is far from resolved. “Prison leavers are typically males and there is a big problem with care leavers who have been failed through systemic failures.

“They are often given inadequate support and so fall into crime.”

James said there are many other ways a person can become homeless, but he hopes that these three typical scenarios will offer people an understanding and insight into how easy it could be for someone to become homeless.

This World Homeless Day, he is urging people to help make a difference and to treat homeless people as individual human beings.

Here are James’ three ways for you to help in the fight against homelessness this World Homeless Day:

Acknowledge homeless people

When you pass a homeless person say hello and look them in the eye. Fear can play a big part in preventing people from acknowledging a homeless person, but they are human. Rather than seeing them as scary, see them as an individual who is down on their luck trying to survive.

You could go one step further and offer to buy them a warm drink to show you care. It is a small gesture which could make a big difference to them.


Approach your local authority if you are looking for volunteering opportunities to support homeless people. They will be able to signpost you to where you could help, whether that is with a local charity such as a food bank or helping homeless people find the right support services.

Talk to your children

Education is key to helping the next generation understand the plight of homeless people and how they can be supported. Parents should have open and honest conversations about homelessness with children, to help them understand how and why people can become homeless and instil empathy at a young age.

Having a conversation around the dinner table will help children become more aware of the issues and help us to break that cycle.

For more information about World Homeless Day and how you can help visit 


1. WHO. (2011). Global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response from health and social sectors at the country level: Report by the Secretariat. Retrieved from pdf_files/EB130/B130_9-en.pdf [Accessed 02/07/16].



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