Hundreds of students could be facing homelessness in London

This is the first article in a two-part documentary on student homelessness in London.

Hundreds of university students could be facing homelessness in the capital, London Student can reveal.

King’s College London (KCL) was one of two universities who held data on homelessness. Between September and December 2018, they logged 28 “homelessness issues … with the relevant department.” They added that this figure may not be accurate as issues are sometimes reported to other departments or staff, or go unreported entirely.

Across the same period, London South Bank University (LSBU) said that 12 students contacted their Mental Health and Wellbeing support team with issues around homelessness.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to London universities revealed that out of 32 universities and schools surveyed, it was only KCL and LSBU that hold data on student homelessness.

There was no single reason why universities could provide data, but there was a lack of uniformity when it came to data collection across the HEIs surveyed.

KCL and LSBU provided estimates acquired from their wellbeing and support departments. Birkbeck told us not to hold out for data: “in order to enrol as a student, [they] would need to give us an address.” UEL told us they had no data as “universities are not required by law to collect [this] data.”

The data available for the two universities only shows figures for part of the year so the issue is likely much larger.

This news comes just weeks after a Student Hut survey found that, for 62.5% of London students, maintenance loans do not fully cover rents.

Universities are failing to properly document the issue of homelessness among students.

London Metropolitan University’s Patrick Mulrenan told London Student: “There is not real information on the number of homeless students. This is for several reasons. The first is that universities do not [traditionally] collect this information. The second emerged from my research – none of the participants had approached support services, mainly because they felt too embarrassed. This means it is a hidden problem.”

But whilst only KCL and LSBU could provide figures, most HEIs acknowledged that homelessness is an issue which affects students.

Roehampton told us that students facing homelessness come forward “from time to time.” Birkbeck, University of London has an advice sheet prepared for students worried about homelessness. The University of East London (UEL) offers dedicated support to students in poverty through a local charity, Community Links.

Beyond these universities, however, it appears that across the higher education sector, there is no sense of scale when it comes to student homelessness. Time and time again, universities told London Student that “each student case is assessed on an individual basis.”

We reached out to University of London Housing Services (ULHS) for comment. They told LS: “In the last 12 months we have seen an increase in students facing homelessness that have approached us. Homelessness advice is … not within our area of expertise. For this reason, we are limited as to the support we can offer homeless students particularly where it is a systemic problem.” ULHS do not record statistics on this issue.

Ahad Mahmood, president of KCL Students’ Union, told London Student that he was “shocked as this is the first [he was] hearing of this.”

He said: “I’m also highly frustrated. I’m a student representative and I should be aware of this. This is a lacking on my part as well as the university management.”

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, ULHS advises students to seek help from their universities. There are also charities across the UK that can offer help and support: Centrepoint; Shelter; Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT).

Will is London Student's Features Editor (2019-20). He does a history degree at SOAS, and you can find him hiding in a library around Bloomsbury.

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