A NEW study has found that the majority of homeless people in Chester are not local and have come to the city due to a lack of provision in their own less affluent communities.

That was one of the findings in a Cheshire-based study that explored the social and economic conditions which contribute to homelessness.

Researchers Dr Mzwandile Mabhala, Asmait Yohannes and Mariska Griffith, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Chester, carried out 26 semi-structured interviews with homeless people in Cheshire.

The study aimed to examine the stories of homeless people to gain understanding of the social condition under which homelessness occurs. Despite the evidence of the association between homelessness and social factors, there is very little research that examines the wider social context within which homelessness occurs from the perspective of homeless people themselves.

The researchers interviewed volunteers and learned that the majority of the homeless people interviewed in Chester were not local. They said they had come to Chester because there was provision for homeless people in the city.

The report reads: “Chester is the most affluent city in Cheshire and Merseyside, and therefore might not be expected to be considered for a homelessness project. The reasons for including it were: first, it was a natural choice, since the organisations that funded the project and the one that led the research project were based in Chester; second, despite its affluence, there is visible evidence of homelessness in the streets of Chester; and third, it has several local authority and charity-funded facilities for homeless people.

An investigator spent a day a week for two months in three participating centres, two in Chester and one in Crewe.

The report adds: “During that time the principal investigator learned that the majority of homeless people that we were working with in Chester were not local. They told us that they came to Chester because there was no provision for homeless people in their former towns.”

The analysis revealed that being homeless is a process characterised by a progressive waning in resilience and capacity to cope with life challenges created by a series of adverse life events.

The participants described social conditions in which they were raised and referred to behavioural issues - such as drug or alcohol problems or being in trouble with the authorities - which led to them becoming homeless. They believe their condition affected their life chances; these conditions were responsible for their low quality of social connections, poor education attainment or insecure employment.

The final stage in becoming homeless is the complete collapse of relationships with those close to them. The researchers found problems with alcohol or drugs and being in trouble with people in authority often led to this breakdown.

Dr Mabhala said: “Our experiences showed that homeless people readily express the view that behavioural lifestyle factors, such as substance abuse and engaging in criminal activities, are the causes of becoming homeless.

“However, when we spent time talking about their lives within the context of homeless people, we began to uncover incidents in their lives that appeared to have weakened their capacity to constructively engage in relationships, engage with social institutions and maturely deal with the demands of society.

“From the public health intervention point of view, understanding the conditions within which homelessness occurs is essential, as it will encourage policymakers and providers of services for homeless people to devote equal attention to tackling the fundamental determinants of homelessness as is granted in dealing with behavioural causes.”