Rural Homelessness


It said the number of people sleeping rough in barns, outhouses and parked cars in rural areas had risen by up to 32% between 2010 and 2016. It is a problem but it’s a relatively well hidden problem.

To a certain extent there has always been an issue. I have family and friends of my own age who started their married lives in a caravan tucked round the back of the family farm. The newlyweds had a bedroom and kitchen of their own and if they wanted to do anything so exotic as to wash or go to the toilet, then they’d have to go into the house.

It was just one of those things. Working in agriculture you were stuck in a low wage economy and because your home and workplace was in the countryside, you were stuck in a high house-price area. Eventually if the family owned the farm, you’d try to get permission to build a house. For a tenant farmer, that was never an option, no landlord could afford to build a house and not get a commercial rent for it. That, almost by definition put it out of reach of rural employee. I know of farms now where they have seriously big static caravans for employees. Full planning permission, mains electricity and plumbing, but still caravans. Fine if you’re young and single. It’s just that there is no accommodation at all in the area for the sort of money a farm worker could afford. I asked one farmer whether he had thought of building houses for staff. His comment was that if he could afford to build that many houses, he’d be better off abandoning farming and just live by running holiday lets.

Nowadays things are tougher than they were when I was in my teens and twenties. Agricultural incomes have not kept pace with inflation, whilst house prices have rocketed. Indeed in rural areas you get the double hit. Not only are the houses more expensive, there are fewer of them because so many are now second homes or holiday lets.

So the rural housing crisis is largely hidden. Some go through the expensive planning process to get permission for a ‘permanent’ caravan. Others just stick their cheap second-hand (or do we call them pre-loved now?) caravan in a barn and hope nobody notices.

In urban areas, family breakdown, unemployment and mental health problems are among the major causes of homelessness. In rural areas the same problems exist. To be honest, the offspring of farming families are comparatively well supported within the family unit. Indeed it has been estimated that over seventy percent of rural homeless people have been supported and accommodated almost entirely by their extended family. In urban areas this drops to about fifteen percent. But then not many council houses have the room to hide a caravan.

A lot of rural rough-sleeping consists of people sleeping in their car. Because of the impossibility of getting to anywhere rural by public transport, your car is perhaps more important than your home. If you have a home but no car, you’ll have no job and soon you’ll have no home. If you have a car, you can continue to hold down you job and then you have a hope of getting a home.

Then you have those who do sleep rough. Nobody really has any idea how many there are. In towns they do night-time surveys and make estimates. In rural areas this isn’t so easy. To quote one report, “It is harder for these services to operate in rural areas given the large distances between residential areas, absence of ‘street’ lighting, and tendency for rough sleepers to stay outside village centres. Remoteness can also create safety concerns for outreach staff. They may be required to go into badly lit environments with difficult terrain (for example, coastal areas, caves and woods), with limited mobile phone reception and far away from other homes and services.” This is from ‘Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities.’  It’s published by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The safety of staff is a genuine issue. The safety of rough-sleepers apparently less so.

Indeed the lack of transport is a serious problem in rural areas. Somebody with mental health (or even just health) issues is going to struggle to get to any of the centres where they can get help. Even just attending an interview with your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau can take an entire day. Before anybody talks about Skype interviews or similar, remember this is a rural area. If the person is homeless they haven’t got a computer, and as it’s rural their mobile reception could be distinctly iffy.

Rural public transport has broken down to a level where some CABs will pay for taxis to get those of their clients living in rural areas to court. That’s to stop them getting into serious trouble with the magistrates for turning up late and missing their hearing. I came across the case of one young man who had to attend a court hearing. He arrived at 11am for a 10am hearing. The magistrate had already put out a warrant for his arrest. To be fair to the police, when he arrived they just fitted him into the next gap in the schedule and the magistrate lambasted him for not being on time. He apologised but explained that he’d had to walk twenty-two miles to get there. He’d set off at four in the morning but had discovered the hard way that you cannot walk at four miles per hour indefinitely. The lady magistrate then pointed out that he was only been called in for a strong warning. She felt that he’d already had that. So she told the police to drive him home.


There again, what do I know? I recommend that you take it up with an expert

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”


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32 thoughts on “Rural Homelessness

  1. Jack Eason July 16, 2019 at 1:34 pm Reply

    As someone who slept rough for several months back at the beginning of this century because of a complete mental breakdown, I know what most of the ‘forgotten ones’ are going through. This nation should be looking after its own. Not sending billions in overseas aid to other countries. I was fortunate when I was placed in a hostel after having been diagnosed with chronic depression Jim. It took five years before I slowly recovered from the hell I was experiencing when I got my first laptop and returned to writing full time…

    • jwebster2 July 16, 2019 at 1:38 pm Reply

      My contact with the foodbank locally means that I’ve come across a lot of the ‘invisible’ people who need serious help.
      I’ve come to the conclusion that if we spent the money properly looking after those who’re mentally ill, then it would be money well spent and would save a fortune in the long run

      • M T McGuire July 21, 2019 at 5:58 pm

        What really pisses me off is that there is no infrastructure for caring for people with with mental problems or who are vulnerable in the same way as there was. When I was younger a lot of them were in asylums, where people with long term mental illness or difficultly were sheltered but could work and go out into the local community to spend their earnings and live semi-independently, and most importantly supported. I remember as a kid when Mrs Thatcher’s government closed all the asylums.

        Care in the community doesn’t work. People need a roof over their head and proper support. I remember how at the time the numbers of homeless people in London, where I lived, grew and how the portion of them with mental health issues rose to 80%.

        Many of these were people who lived in mental institutions where they’d had someone to help them, make sure they take their pills, and all the rest of it. These people were then shoved out into the community, with very little preparation and no idea how to do things like pay bills or manage money. Worse the neighbours were expected to look after them and resented it.

        instead of turning into flats for posh people they could do well by reopening the hanwell mental asylum and using it two offers shelter for vulnerable people who need help, both short and longer term. but no leave them in the community because that way with any luck they’ll freeze or starve to death on the streets and that’ll save the government money.

        Sorry don’t mind me I’m just angry.

      • jwebster2 July 21, 2019 at 6:14 pm

        It’s difficult. My middle daughter worked in a house where a team of people (working 8hr shifts) managed to provide support for a group of people with mental problems/learning difficulties. They live ‘semi-independently’ but have somebody on hand to cook and supervise and keep the peace. But apparently this model doesn’t work for people who’re more capable but with other problems. They expect to be fully independent. Also it’s pretty expensive because the team of people might outnumber the people they’re looking after. But then it’s pretty much minimum wage work
        I knew people who worked in the old asylums and frankly a lot of them were grim. We hear now about people being abused in nursing homes or in care homes. Some asylums were like that, even the good ones were often places were patients were stored out of the way so they didn’t embarrass their families 😦
        There were good places who did attempt to treat people but a lot couldn’t be treated.
        I think the big gap at the moment is emergency crisis cover where somebody can go somewhere safe and perhaps stay a couple of days or even a couple of months and come out again. Then we need a sort of ‘semi sheltered’ accommodation for them to come out into. But the real lack is pf general interest amongst the public in mental health. If people cared, politicians would put money into it. I watched the way careers were made as funding exploded for CJD and similar diseases when they became of crucial public and hence political interest.

      • M T McGuire July 21, 2019 at 6:54 pm

        Yeh. I hear you about the horror of some of those places. I guess I was thinking mostly of the folks like the ones your daughter cared for. The safety net would be good. Have flats for vulnerable people near us. They’re mostly young and many have drug problems. They are all in together which makes it harder for the ones who want to stay clean. I dunno what the answer is.

      • jwebster2 July 21, 2019 at 7:09 pm

        We have a block of flats in town where the rents are so low not only do the addicts and others with problems get housed there, but so do the drug dealers running county lines. So the police have moved in, rented a flat ( think the various landlords clubbed together to cover the cost) and have set up a hub where the various agencies, most of them voluntary, have a presence. So effectively they’ve created a ‘one stop shop’ so that people can easily go there to get help. Also their presence has deterred the dealers who know that new tenants are scrutinised.

      • M T McGuire July 22, 2019 at 6:16 am

        Our police don’t even have the resources to run a lost property service any more. If you find something expensive they just tell you to advertise it on lamp posts and Facebook and keep it off none claims it in a month.

      • jwebster2 July 22, 2019 at 6:38 am

        Ours did it without money. The block is actually owned by a number of landlords and the police got them together and came up with a common policy. Up until then somebody could be kicked out by one landlord, walk across the court and get a flat with another.
        The landlords aren’t allowed to share data, but under some regulation or another, they could work with the police. This they were delighted to do because it’s made their job so much easier.
        In return they organised a flat for the police to use as a drop in centre/community hub.
        Our police don’t do a lost property either

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 16, 2019 at 6:14 pm Reply

    “It would save a fortune in the long run” – but politicians can’t look beyond today’s bottom line. This is the same as complaining about the cost of prenatal care, or any other preventive medical techniques.

    And once someone starts the downward spiral for any reason, it is so hard to catch up. Problems compound when they aren’t taken care of. And it also saves money from the budget when people just can’t get to their healthcare providers.

    Many people have too many problems to be able to work some day, but there is a distinct bunch who just need a hand getting started or keeping going at the rough spots – and who’s to decide who is deserving and who is not?

    • jwebster2 July 16, 2019 at 8:54 pm Reply

      It’s probably better to treat them all rather than worry over whether they’re deserving

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 16, 2019 at 8:56 pm

        The ARE all deserving – they are our brothers and sisters – but no one can tell for sure which people are ready to take advantage of opportunities or care to try again. Our governments should not be in the business of deciding worthiness.

        Budgets impose some limitations – and are often quite stingy and very demanding of people who are having a hard time.

      • jwebster2 July 16, 2019 at 9:08 pm

        They seem to forget that we’re all created in the image of God

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt July 16, 2019 at 9:16 pm

        Until they are getting ready to face their Maker; then it’s way too late. All the good they should have done won’t happen.


      • jwebster2 July 16, 2019 at 9:21 pm


  3. July 18, 2019 at 11:12 pm Reply

    I love your way of thinking, Jim! I volunteered at a homeless shelter for a few years. I always thought, “There but for the grace of God, this could be my own children.” Excellent post!

    • jwebster2 July 19, 2019 at 5:41 am Reply

      Glad you’ve enjoyed it. The homeless shelters do a really vital job, we have one here in Barrow which fills a gap.
      The real work is helping people rebuild their lives and get back onto their feet again.

  4. kevin cooper July 20, 2019 at 1:53 pm Reply

    This most certainly is a huge problem… Gov needs to get their act together to help resolve this.

    • jwebster2 July 20, 2019 at 2:41 pm Reply

      yes, sometimes they can step in and do positive things. In other cases they really just have to step back and stop getting in the way.

  5. patriciaruthsusan July 26, 2019 at 10:37 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, Jim Webster discusses homelessness in rural and city areas of the U.K. Next, he has a book on offer about farm life from his experience. It’s followed by a review of a pleased reader.

    • jwebster2 July 26, 2019 at 11:44 am Reply

      Interesting that some of our UK rural areas have higher population densities than parts of some American urban areas!

  6. patriciaruthsusan July 26, 2019 at 11:52 am Reply

    It’s probably hard to tell how many people are in U.S. cities as some of the illegals are now hiding from the government. President Trump is trying to find out where the illegals are by putting an extra question on the census forms. It doesn’t seem to be working. —- Suzanne

    • jwebster2 July 26, 2019 at 11:56 am Reply

      we have a problem with illegals as well, often shielded within communities
      I think most European countries have a similar issue

  7. tidalscribe July 27, 2019 at 10:49 am Reply

    Town and city councils have great trouble dealing with the homeless who are literally being tripped over they are so visible, so one can imagine councils are not going to worry about the invisible causing no problems to anybody else. No easy solutions.

    • jwebster2 July 27, 2019 at 11:30 am Reply

      One of the problems is that a large proportion of those who are homeless are those with mental health problems and others have pretty chaotic lives, often caused or resulting in substance abuse issues.
      These people need an awful lot of one to one support and care, and for a lot of them that care, whether in hospital or the community, will last for many years.

  8. Cynthia Reyes July 28, 2019 at 7:03 pm Reply

    Your country has the wealthy and middle-upper class images of its glorious past and many onlookers do not realize that the rate of poverty, mental illness, violence, homelessness and drug-use is terribly high in some places. I’m sorry to hear this, Jim.

    • jwebster2 July 28, 2019 at 7:55 pm Reply

      There are times when people forget the cost of two world wars. We were lucky that the Victorians built as well as they did because we never had the money to upgrade the infrastructure when we should have done because we were paying for the costs of survival. This means that as well as the costs of looking after people now, we’re often trying to find the money to cover the costs of repairs and maintenance to buildings, sewers, roads, railways and bridges that could be centuries old and haven’t been properly maintained in the meantime

  9. Jack Eason July 29, 2019 at 5:13 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    And now for a subject I know a little about…

    • jwebster2 July 29, 2019 at 5:15 am Reply

      unfortunately too many people do 😦

  10. CHINA ALEXANDRIA LIVING THE DREAM August 2, 2019 at 9:42 am Reply


    • jwebster2 August 2, 2019 at 9:55 am Reply

      It’s desperately sad 😦

  11. CHINA ALEXANDRIA LIVING THE DREAM August 2, 2019 at 9:42 am Reply

    Reblogged this on LIVING THE DREAM.

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