You might not know that homeless people are ten times more likely to have a problem with gambling when compared with the UK population as a whole*. This may come as a surprise, as this addiction is not often associated with homelessness and therefore can be overlooked as a support need.
There are lots of factors which put homeless people at more risk of becoming problem gamblers. People’s inexperience with budgeting and managing their money, combined with it being more difficult to open bank accounts, means any money is often readily available for gambling.
There are seasonal factors to consider too. When the weather gets colder, and people have no home to go back to, the prospect of spending time in a warm betting shop becomes even more appealing.
There has been an increase in the different ways you can gamble which has made it more widely accessible and harder to avoid, particularly as betting shops and online sites are often available 24 hours a day.
Finally, gambling can provide emotional escapism and the prospect of winning a lot of money, especially when you have very little, is a risk someone is more willing to take.
Over the last 5 years The Connection has been doing a lot of work with homeless people to address this particular addiction. The process starts with making sure that people feel comfortable disclosing their gambling problem to their support worker. This is not always easy as people can feel immense shame about gambling and often hide their addiction. Building relationships of trust are crucial in getting people to start talking about it, which makes them more open to receive support.
We provide a weekly stop gambling support group with a counselling psychologist. This open and informal workshop is focused on exploring the triggers, which cause people to gamble, and finding ways people can manage these using cognitive behavioural therapy. The group has been successful at helping some participants overcome their addiction entirely with them returning to the group occasionally as a ‘top up’ to remember what they’ve learnt.
*Source: University of Cambridge 2014