Gambling and Homelessness: what don’t we know?

Wednesday, 25 May 2016 - 6:45am

A new research project by the University of Lincoln aims to build a better picture of the link between problem gambling and homelessness.

Photograph: Lucy Fisher (Flickr)

Although at first glance gambling might not seem instantly relatable to homelessness, scratch beneath the surface and the appeal is easy to see. Gambling offers the potential for large, life changing rewards for very little input, and the promise of reward can appear to outweigh the associated risks. However, the glitz and glamour of gambling seen on adverts and in movies is far removed from the reality of a gambling addiction.

What do we know?

Recent research from the University of Cambridge has demonstrated higher levels of disordered gambling in the homeless population than the general population. The study interviewed individuals accessing homeless services throughout Westminster, and found homeless individuals are up to 10 times more likely than the general population to suffer from gambling related problems, often gambling on machines in bookmakers’ shops.

Gambling problems are more easily hidden – unlike drug and alcohol use disorders, there are no obvious physiological symptoms. Many participants in our previous work revealed how fights over lies and dishonesty relating to money used for gambling led to them being thrown out and on to the streets, with no friends or family left to turn to. Others recalled how gambling their wages meant that they missed rent or mortgage payments, which ultimately led to homelessness.

What don’t we know?

The relationship between gambling and homelessness is complex. It’s not as black and white as ‘gambling causes homelessness’, as some gamblers we interviewed only started gambling after they became homeless, as the bookies and arcades offered a warm, safe, dry environment. We also understand that gambling does not occur in a vacuum, so we are seeking to understand the relationship with drugs, alcohol and other life events. In short, we simply don’t know why gambling problems are more common in the homeless population.

New Research

Building on previous research, the University of Lincoln is working with a number of leading UK homeless charities to understand the complex relationship between gambling and homelessness. Our aim is interview homeless gamblers around the UK, to hear their voices, and to really understand this from the perspective of the individual. The main function of the research is to use what we hear in these interviews to help develop a short screening tool, and a brief cognitive intervention.

The aim of the research is to provide front line homeless workers with better tools to identify and combat gambling related problems, and to ultimately reduce the impact of gambling on homelessness.

What do we need?

To do this we need to speak to homeless individuals who have experienced problems with gambling.

If you, or any of your clients or co-workers know someone who has suffered from gambling related problems, and would be willing to talk about it, or if you have any questions about the research, then please get in touch with me, Steve Sharman on ssharman@lincoln.ac.uk.

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Steve Sharman

Research Fellow at UEL

Steve is a Research Fellow at the University of East London. His research primarily investigates distorted cognitions and decision-making in gambling behaviour, and disordered gambling in vulnerable populations.  

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