Homeless forced into prostitution

Nearly one in five homeless women has resorted to prostitution to escape a night on the streets, a study has revealed.

The survey commissioned by homeless charity Crisis found individuals were resorting to crime and unwanted sexual relationships to avoid sleeping rough.

The Hidden Homelessness report produced by Sheffield Hallam University's centre for regional economic and social research found 19 per cent of women and 3 per cent of men said they had engaged in sex work as a way to get off the streets.

It revealed more than one in four (28 per cent) of women and 14 per cent of men had spent one or more nights with unwanted sexual partners to accommodate themselves.

The study of 437 single homeless people across the UK, found 28 per cent had committed minor crimes such as shop-lifting or anti-social behaviour in the hope of being taken into custody.

Approximately 20 per cent said they had each avoided bail or committed an imprisonable offence as a means to resolve their housing problems, while 18 per cent admitted spending time in accident and emergency departments for the same reason.

Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "One of the reasons why the research is so damning is that it focuses on those people who don't have any right to social housing or supportive housing.

She added: "There are three things that are particularly shocking. The percentage of people who said they had ended up in an unwanted sexual relationship simply because they needed a roof over their head.

"Even more shocking is the 19 per cent of women who said they had resorted to prostitution to get a roof over their head.

"That was followed by people who had made the decision to commit petty crimes in order to end up in custody or who use accident and emergency facilities to avoid ending up rough sleeping.

"Sleeping on the streets is in itself extremely dangerous and cold. People are clearly doing the things we'd talked to people about and anecdotally knew they did."

The study found financial hardship was leading to homelessness, with 13 per cent evicted for rent arrears or being unable to afford their rent and 9 per cent losing accommodation tied to employment.

Ms Morphy warned homelessness was likely to worsen as the full effects of the economic downturn are felt.

She said: "Unfortunately I don't think we've reached the crisis point in 2010, I think it's going to get worse, not better.

"Of course the weather is ghastly and that clearly makes it much more dangerous for people when the conditions are this bad.

"What we haven't seen yet are the results of some of the cuts coming forward. In particular, we haven't seen the results of the housing benefit cuts that have been announced.

"We also haven't really seen the results of the cuts in local authority budgets."

She added: "We are particularly worried about people who are normally single homeless people, where the local authority doesn't have any statutory duty to house them.

"They are regarded as not being in priority need so they pull through all of the safety nets."

Ms Morphy urged the Government to re-think its plans to avoid hitting vulnerable people.

She said: "There are two things we want them to do. We want them not to bring in all these housing benefit measures, particularly the one about the shared room rate.

"We want them not to take forward a measure which means people who are on job seekers allowance have their housing benefit reduced by 10 per cent when they've been on it a year and we really would urge local authorities not to cut homeless services over the next few years.".