Single Homeless Project (SHP) was founded by a group of homeless people in the mid-1970s. Today, 40 years on, we still try to look at the world through our clients’ eyes.

Before SHP

In the mid-1970s, provision for single homeless people in the UK consisted largely of dormitory-style night shelters, typically sleeping  (or ‘warehousing’) hundreds at a time. These were often run by the Salvation Army or Church Army, or by the state in the form of ‘resettlement units’. 

The Sunday Times described a winter’s night in one of these shelters in their early 1970s heyday:

“The Unit…packed in 1,100 bedraggled men. Each had a narrow bunkspace, a thin mattress and a blanket. Most were chronically alcoholic, many had fleas or lice… They slept in eight noisy, dirty and often dangerous dormitories, each over 30 yards long…”

These relics of the Victorian workhouse era were impersonal and institutionalising, maintaining a chasm between service users and those in charge. The religious organisations which ran them would often compel residents to attend church services for their moral improvement, while state run hostels required people to clean the buildings or do the laundry to earn the right to stay.

SHP is founded

In 1975, one of SHP’s founders Stuart Clark, a homeless man who had slept rough and stayed in most of the London shelters, managed to persuade a housing association to let him use a short life property in Pimlico to house himself and five other homeless men, including Dennis Handfield, after whom SHP’s high level support hostel in Camden was later named.

The Pimlico property was the foundation for what became Single Homeless Project. Thanks to an Urban Aid grant, SHP was able to establish itself in 1977, when we became a registered charity and Stuart became our first paid employee.

In the 1980’s the government announced the closure of the resettlement units and made funding available to replace the large institutions with smaller hostels and supported housing projects. The argument for a more personalised, community-based approach to homelessness provision had been won.

SHP was one of a new wave of homelessness charities pioneering an alternative approach to hostel accommodation, based on small-scale converted residential properties with single rooms instead of dormitories. This reduced stigma, granting residents control over their own space and providing a sense of ‘home’. Instead of ‘self improvement’, support focused on building people’s capacity to move on and live independently. 

Rapid growth

Through the 1980s, SHP’s development was driven by partnerships with Registered Providers, and this led to steady growth in our provision of supported housing. By the turn of the millennium, SHP had shifted its approach to focus on developing relationships with local authorities.

In 2003, the government launched the Supporting People programme, which provided funds to local councils to commission housing-related services for vulnerable people living in the community. This enabled SHP to secure significant new funding to expand our services and to focus on some of the underlying causes of homelessness, including substance misuse, mental ill-health, offending, and the needs of care leavers and other young people at risk.

SHP Today

Today, proposed reforms to the funding of supported housing, coupled with ongoing cuts to statutory health and social care services, mean the future funding landscape is more uncertain.

In this challenging environment we are more determined than ever to ensure that the most vulnerable Londoners remain able to access the services they need and that SHP delivers sustainable outcomes.

While we’ve changed a lot over the last 40 years, we’re proud of our history and origins, which continue to influence our work today.


Read more about our strategy for the future