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What is the definition of homelessness?

The definition of homelessness means not having a home. You don't have to be living on the street to be homeless - even if you have a roof over your head you can still be without a home. This may be because you don't have any rights to stay where you live or your home is unsuitable for you.

What situations mean you are homeless?

You might be defined as homeless if you are:

  • sleeping on the streets
  • staying with friends or family
  • staying in a hostel or bed and breakfast hotel
  • living in overcrowded conditions
  • at risk of violence in your home
  • living in poor conditions that affect your health.
  • living in a house that is not suitable for you because you are sick or disabled.

If you ask the council for help, it will look into your situation to see if it has a legal responsibility to help you as a homeless person.

You can check the legal definition of homelessness.

Who is affected?

Homelessness affects a wide variety of people. Some groups of people are more likely to become homeless because they have fewer rights, particular needs or are less able to cope by themselves. These include:

  • young people
  • old people
  • people with children
  • people with physical or mental health problems
  • people on benefits or low incomes
  • people leaving care
  • ex-armed forces personnel
  • ex-prisoners
  • asylum seekers and refugees.

How do people become homeless?

You could become homeless for many reasons. These could include:

  • being evicted by your landlord
  • losing your job
  • health problems
  • relationship problems
  • harassment by your neighbours
  • a disaster such as fire or flooding.

How can an adviser help?

If you are homeless, or worried about becoming homeless, you should get advice as early as you can. An adviser might be able to help you find a way to stay in your home, find a new home more quickly or get help from your local council.

You can get advice from Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline 0808 800 4444, Citizens Advice, your local council or a local advice agency. Use the Advice Services Directory to find agencies in your area and find out how different agencies can help you.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're England

The important points

  • You don't need to be on the streets to be homeless.
  • You might be homeless if where you are staying isn't suitable or if it's dangerous.
  • Getting advice early might mean you can prevent yourself from becoming homeless. 

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

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