One in four Londoners believe homeless people are themselves to blame for ending up on the streets, a charity working in South West London has found.

Research commissioned by Evolve Housing + Support, which works in Croydon, Wimbledon and Kingston, has found that 29% of people in the capital believe that homeless people are responsible for their situation, while 38% blame the government.

The findings come at a time when rough sleeping is on the rise, with the latest government statistics showing an 18% increase in London in the last year alone.

Sheldon Williams, 20, from Croydon, spent time on the streets during his teenage years after living with his alcoholic father became impossible.

He now lives in supported housing run by Evolve.

Responding to the research, Sheldon said: “People make assumptions about homeless people – that somehow it’s a choice people make, a lifestyle they opt into, or that they’re all drug addicts or alcoholics.

“My Dad was an alcoholic, and I don’t ever want to end up like that.

“As I got older, me and Dad started arguing a lot and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I moved out and started crashing on friend’s sofas.

“Sometimes they’d kick me out and I’d end up bedding down on the streets.

“The reasons people end up homeless are not only complex, but often stem from traumatic incidents that they’ve not received the right help to recover from.”

Recent research by Evolve also found that 80% of homeless people have experienced a childhood trauma including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or violence within the family.

More than a quarter (29%) said this was the primary cause of their homelessness, and 87% of respondents had a mental health diagnosis.

The charity is using the figures to highlight the root causes of homelessness and the complex stories behind the people sleeping on the streets.

It aims to challenge perceptions of rough sleepers, increasing understanding and highlighting the need for counselling to help break the cycle of homelessness.

The new research also found that over two thirds of people in London (68%) said they had done something to help someone sleeping rough in the past year.

Over half of people in London (55%) had given money or food directly, 22% gave money to a housing and homelessness charity, and 12% even offered a work opportunity.

Jeremy Gray, CEO of Evolve, said: “This research reveals that while the vast majority of people want to help rough sleepers, underlying this is a belief that they are to blame for where they have ended up.

“We’ve released these figures to challenge people to think about the stories behind the faces they see on our streets.

Only by increasing understanding and empathy can we start to break down the stigma homeless people face and help them get the support they need.”

Evolve helps over 2,000 homeless people across London each year, providing housing, counselling and employment and skills training.

It also works in schools to mentor ‘at risk’ children to give them coping strategies to deal with trauma, in the hope that this will help to prevent homelessness later in life.

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