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Exploring the Lived Experiences of Rough Sleeping


This paper will analyse and interpret interview data on rough sleeping. Therefore, the paper will analyse the findings from interviews held by two respondents explaining their lived experiences of rough sleeping in the United Kingdom. In doing so, the paper will rely on phenomenological interpretive analysis (PIA), which entails the study of a phenomenon from the perspectives of people experiencing it (Flick, 2018). The application of PIA approaches in this paper implies that throughout the analysis process, the researcher will differentiate between the outer reality and the respondents’ experience of reality because PIA entails an attempt to understand the outside world through an individual’s consciousness (Glaser & Strauss, 2017).

The selection of PIA as the theoretical underpinning of this analysis is i9nfoemed by several reasons. First, according to Hennink et al (2020), PIA enables researchers to capture the unique perspectives taken by the respondents. This implies that the captured data will be rich and of great value. Secondly, PIA will create an opportunity for the researcher to get the most detail out of the data, especially considering that the interviews transcripts were developed out of semi-structured interviews. Nonetheless, the researcher might encounter a challenge in presenting the results in a more useful manner because the responses might be too qualitative. Meanwhile, the following are the themes and sub-themes that emerged from the interview:


Superordinate theme 1: Risk Factors for rough sleeping


When respondents were asked about the risk factors for rough sleeping, they revealed a variety of factors that border family issues, parental neglect, social exclusion, criminality and peer pressure. With regards to parental neglect, the interviews reveal that all is always well for rough sleepers at a tender age, until they reach middle age when family issues set in, culminating into several issue that finally push them out of their families. For instance, the first respondent noted that:

Respondent 1: …It was OK at first. He tried to be like a dad to me …. But not too in your face sort of thing …. He didn’t boss me around or anything like that ….. but then my mum and Colin had my little brother and they changed after that,,,,

Respondent 1: ….Well [pause] ….. Colin got stricter with me, always telling me what to do. Telling me off if I made any noise or left my stuff lying around. Felt like it wasn’t my home anymore…

Respondent 2: …I was born in XXXX [city]. My mum and dad weren’t together very long when my mum got pregnant so I suppose it was never going to last [laughs]…

The respondents then narrate how the family issues escalate to a point where they are unbearable, necessitating them to leave. For instance, respondent one highlights how he moved in with his grandfather and later on had to move back in with his family, which he did not want to live with, a factor that later led them to resort to rough sleeping:

Respondent 1…I wanted to stay in his house but the council said that I couldn’t. Said I had to leave and go back to mum and Colin. They didn’t want that and neither did I…

Therefore, rough sleeping emerges from a set of family issues within the family that makes them feel neglected and excluded from the family, then they engage into other activities such as drug abuse and criminality that eventually pushes them out of their normal lives into rough sleeping. For instance, the respondents narrate how they got into drugs, were taken to jail and later resorted to seeking a better life by moving away from home and ending up being rough sleepers:

Respondent 1: …At first, my mum and Colin said I could go and stay with them in their new house. I agreed cos I didn’t really have much choice …. But they lived in this village … right in the middle of nowhere. It was sooooooo boring! Nothing to do … no jobs ….no college ….no mates. And I could tell they didn’t really want me there

Respondent 1: Yea for a while …. But I was smoking lots of weed and that was against the rules so they said I had to leave. I was so angry I stole a car and smashed it up. When the police came, I was wild … like really fighting …. I was out of my head ….. That’s when I got sent to a young offenders place..

The point when rough sleepers really decide to move out of their residences is when they interact with friend in search of alternatives, who them advise them to get out and search for new life, despite these being false hope. For instance, both respondent 1 and respondent 2 narrate how peer-pressure led them out of their homes to London in search of better life, but ultimately ended up being rough sleepers:

Respondent 2….Well I had this contact and I thought if I could stay with her for a month or so, that would give me time to get on my feet …. Get a job in a bar or something, find a flat …. you know … I wasn’t stupid to believe in the “streets are paved with gold” crap … but I wanted to get right away from XXXX [city] …. Somewhere people didn’t know me …. Start fresh …. Thought it would be easier to get a job in a big place like London than where I came from ….. I just needed a fresh start

Respondent 1: A couple of guys I was banged up with came from London. They had been sleeping rough and they told me about a few places you could go. I grew up near London so I knew my way around a bit

Respondent 2: First I stayed with a friend …. Slept on her sofa ….. but that was only a stop-gap. It wasn’t her flat and when the owner found out, he said I had to go… Well that’s when I decided to go to London. My friend said she knew people in London who had a flat and said I could just turn up there. It would be OK. She gave me the address and I just sort of walked around London looking for this place..

Therefore, peer-pressure plays a central role in rough sleepers’ decision to move out in search of better life because in the face of neglect from family members, compounded by other problems such as criminal convictions and drug abuse, the victims have no option but their peers who they seek advice from.

Superordinate theme 2: Experiences and impacts of rough sleeping

The interview responses also revealed data that predominantly highlighted the experiences of rough sleeping and the impacts that rough sleeping has on individuals. Along the interviews, the interviewer probed the respondents to describe what the rough sleeping is like, and the respondents explained how dilapidated conditions characterized by bad weather and poor living environment. For instance, the first respondent noted that:

Respondent 1: ……Empty buildings, office blocks, warehouses, churches …. That sort of thing …. I found somewhere to sleep under a bridge. They were other people there. We got talking and one of them knew a guy I had been banged up with …. That sort of got me in …

Respondent 2: ….Yea well eventually I found the place ….. ‘cept it wasn’t a flat … more of a squat in a disused building. Horrible really …. but I had nowhere else to stay so I found a corner and bunked down there…

Respondent 2: …. I didn’t go down straight away … but one day it was so cold, I thought I can’t do this anymore; it’s going to kill me …..

Interestingly, one of the respondents noted that the conditions they met while rough sleeping were worse than those in prisons, and that he preferred selling in prison than rough sleeping. The respondent said that:

Respondent 1: Got arrested again the other week ….. mouthing off, fighting {laughs] spent the night in the police station. Best night’s sleep I had in ages [laughs]! Maybe I’ll end up in prison …. That will be my home …

Similarly, the respondents revealed how they lied with drug addicts and the manner in which they were exposed to violence and insecurity, causing fear among them. For instance,

Respondent 2: Yea he was screaming and running around ….. starting fighting with some of the other guys. Then he got stabbed … blood everywhere …. then the police came and threw us all out. Building was boarded up after that so we couldn’t get back in

Interviewer: Were you frightened?

Respondent 2: Not really ….. I could handle myself..... well sometimes it was scary, like it could kick off you know.

Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of rough sleeping is the humiliation they receive from both the security officers and the general public. The respondents explained how they felt humiliated by the police by harassing them, and the public who showed no sympathy for them. For example:

Respondent 1: When you’re on the streets you have to keep moving. You find one place and maybe if you’re lucky you can stay there a few nights … but then someone sees you and you get moved on … they board up the building and take your sleeping bag if they can….. Feds, security guards, council, any jobs worth in a uniform …. You name it … You have to live on your wits … always on the lookout for the next place to bunk down like

Respondent 2: People walking by can treat you like filth … like you’re scum. That’s why it’s good to be with someone …. Like if you are sitting out and one of you needs to go somewhere, you can leave your stuff …you don’t have to carry everything with you or worry that you will come back and someone’s pissed all over your stuff…


The interview responses on the lived experiences of rough sleeping reveal data that is not unique to the social science community. In a study by Mackie & Thomas (2014), the risk factors for rough sleeping in the UK are categorized as individual or personal factors, individual health factors, structural factors and individual financial factors. Some of the individual personal factors identified by May et al (2007) include domestic violence and family issues, relationship breakdowns and anti-social behaviors. These are similar to some of the factors mentioned by the interviewees, including continuous fights between parents as an example of domestic violence, theft as an example of anti-social behavior and drug abuse as an example of individual health related factors.

With regards to the impacts of rough sleeping and the experiences encountered by rough sleepers, Hanratty (2017) observe that rough sleeping has extreme health impacts on individuals because it is an unsafe environment characterized by poor weather, poor hygiene and lack of adequate food, exposing the individuals to contagious diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Furthermore, the study by Mackie & Thomas (2014) indicate that rough sleeping is especially dangerous to females and other vulnerable populations because they are likely to be robbed, beaten or raped in certain circumstances.

In conclusion, this analysis has the dangerous nature of rough sleeping and how people who sleep in the streets are exposed violence, lack of food, and poor health. The long-term impacts of rough sleeping include health issues and breakage of families of relationships. The disturbing accounts of rough sleeping given by the analyzed responses call for immediate action by the responsible authorities such as social workers and healthcare professionals to address the issue through the development of better welfare programs targeting the risk factors for rough sleeping identified in this study.

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Flick, U., 2018. An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.

Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L., 2017. Discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Routledge.

Hennink, M., Hutter, I. and Bailey, A., 2020. Qualitative research methods. SAGE Publications Limited.

Hanratty, M., 2017. Do local economic conditions affect homelessness? Impact of area housing market factors, unemployment, and poverty on community homeless rates. Housing Policy Debate 27, 640–655.

Mackie, P., Thomas, I., 2014. Nations apart? Experiences of single homeless people across Great Britain. Crisis, London.

May, J., Cloke, P., Johnsen, S., 2007. Alternative cartographies of homelessness: rendering visible British women’s experiences of ‘visible’ homelessness. Gender, Place & Culture 14, 121– 140.

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