Under the Arches #8 – Homelessness is a health issue

3rd July 2024

Please note this blog mentions drug use (no graphic descriptions).


I walked past John* on Church Street and noticed he didn’t make eye contact. I was with a couple of other people and so I walked past and came back a little later, when I could speak to John without drawing undue attention to him. He was feeling down. But feeling down on the street is more than feeling down.

As I listened, for just a few minutes, the minutia of disappointment unfolded in, “it’s not fair.” Friendships he had a week before had fallen apart. The volunteering he had started in The Archer Project had stopped because his headspace had changed and following routine wasn’t possible. It was why he hadn’t looked at me the first time I walked past him.

His drug use had increased, not much, but enough to make a difference between feeling hopeful and caught in a negative space. And the more negative he was, the more he hated the bed and breakfast accommodation, which was full of others like him, going round and round the hope-despair roundabout.


I had recently been to the Festival of Debate session, here in Sheffield, on Health Inequalities, addressed by Professor Michael Marmot and as I walked away I was struck by the weight of evidence and data. A crude summary of the session is that being poor means you suffer more disease and die earlier.

So, John will most likely die younger than me. He will most likely suffer life limiting health conditions earlier in his life than I will and spend a greater part of his life affected by poor health than I will. And it is very likely that all of this started in his childhood. I haven’t asked John about that and I have no reason to do so.


A few days after I saw John, his mood had lifted and he was expressing interest in activities at our Project. Woven into John’s story is ability, enthusiasm and motivation. He may get down and see the injustice of life’s opportunities turning against him in his immediate and longer-term future, but he comes into The Project and still offers his skills and time. It is tainted by his experience of seeing others get accommodation when he hasn’t, and by the now ingrained belief that life doesn’t like him.

Despite this, he will be volunteering and helping to deliver the services we offer. He will be participating in activities that fill his time and feed his mind. And, with a bit of luck, he will keep enough hope to plod on through the lack of resources we – the gathered homeless services – have to meet his immediate needs and get him away from the streets.


As for the health inequalities, the life expectancy for people who have been homeless is a lot lower than most other groups in society. For men it is 47 years and for women it is 43 years. It tells us quite clearly that homelessness is a health issue and one we need to address with much greater determination.


*Name changed to protect identity.


Written by Tim Renshaw, CEO of The Archer Project.

Back to all news

Help Support Us


Raise Money For Us


Speak To Our Team

Contact Us

The Archer Project
Sheffield Cathedral
Church Street
Sheffield S1 1HA
Registered Charity No.

Follow Us

Subscribe to our newsletter