In an interview with The Times last month, The Prince of Wales said he was ‘absolutely committed’ to tackling homelessness and recognised that he is ‘one of the most unlikely advocates for this cause’.
But what sparked his interest in tackling this issue? What have been some of William’s key moments in his area of royal work? What will his campaign look like to tackle homelessness?
Prince William and his relationship with The Passage
Diana, Princess of Wales took William and Harry to homeless shelters as children, which saw William develop an interest in the cause, to tackle homelessness and continue his mother’s legacy. He first visited The Passage when he was 11 years old in 1993. Prince William went on to become Patron of The Passage in 2019.
The Prince also made unannounced visits to the homeless charity during the COVID pandemic, when the UK was in lockdown to support those in need. He spoke to homeless people being sheltered there about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic, and worked alongside a group of volunteers to help prepare hot meals for those who had been moved into emergency accommodation.
To mark the 40th anniversary of The Passage in 2021, William visited St Vincent’s Centre where he met clients, volunteers and staff and to hear about their experiences on the frontline of ending homelessness.
Speaking at the event, the Prince said: ‘Over the many years that I have visited The Passage, first with my mother when I was just a small boy, I have developed a great affection for you all. Every time I come here, I am touched by the warmth and friendliness, and the dignity and respect you to show to everyone who comes through your door. I am always so impressed to see and hear the difference that The Passage makes to the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness. Thank you to everyone for your continuous work.’
Key moments in The Prince of Wales’ work to tackle homelessness
William has carried out numerous engagements over the last couple of decades relating to homelessness and often champions the organisations working to tackle the issue. As such, Prince William has become Patron of a couple of homeless charities – Centrepoint & The Passage. Centrepoint was the first ever charity that William supported with an official patronage, beginning in 2005.
In 2009, Prince William spent a night sleeping rough near Blackfriars bridge to experience being homeless, as part of an event organised by Centrepoint.
Awaking a 6am the following morning, William carried out a tour of the West End to see where many young homeless people were sleeping. He said: ‘I was very struck by the people I met and what they were struggling with – sleeping rough, sofa surfing, not having basic comforts a lot of us take for granted. That really struck me at a young age, bearing in mind the gulf for me, growing up in a palace, and seeing the other end of the spectrum where others were faced with huge personal challenges and were overcoming them. That was powerful to see at a young age.’
2019 saw a major milestone for the Royal Family when one of their own – Prince William – became the first member of the family to visit a dedicated LGBTQ+ organisation. The Prince of Wales visited the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) – a charity that supports homeless young people of the community, who are significantly more at risk of homelessness than the rest of the population.
AKT statistics show that as many as 24% of young homeless people are from the community, 69% of homeless LGBTQ+ young people had experienced violence, abuse or rejection from the family home, while 77% of them state that their sexuality/identity was a causal factor in them becoming homeless.
Prince William took part in a group discussion with AKT ambassadors, who have previously been supported by the charity and now mentor others in a similar situation.
In the lead up to his 40th birthday, The Prince of Wales was spotted on the streets of London selling copies of the Big Issue. Prince William would go on to write about homelessness in a future edition of the magazine, and reflect on his experience selling the magazine.
Writing in The Big Issue, Prince William noted how he had ‘seen countless projects in this space grow from strength to strength’ and new initiatives have been launched up and down the country but The Big Issue, perhaps now the most immediately recognisable of these organisations, has undeniably had an impact’.
He added: ‘Looking back helps us to see how far we’ve come, but problems are fixed in the present. And despite all the progress, homelessness is still seen by many as some entrenched phenomenon over which we have little power. And there are worrying signs that things might soon get worse as people feel the effects of higher prices and find it harder to make ends meet.’
Speaking about his experience of selling copies of the magazine, William said his time ‘was truly eye opening’. He acknowledged that his life in the public eye meant people were interested in speaking to him ‘but that isn’t the case for the vast majority of Big Issue vendors, who sell year-round – including through the bleak winter months – and are barely given a second glance by passers-by’.
In March 2023, The Prince of Wales met two people, Nawshin and Miles, from Groundswell – a homelessness charity supported by Comic Relief – to record a podcast as part of Groundswell’s Listen Up! Project. During the recording, HRH expressed how his mother, Diana, would be ‘disappointed that we are still no further on in terms of tackling homelessness and preventing it than when she was interested and involved in it.’
Educating his children on homelessness
Prince William has spoken on a number of occasions around how he is trying to educate his children, George, Charlotte and Louis, about homelessness, just like his mother did with him.
He has stated that his children will be exposed to homeless charities like he was, but it’s about finding the ‘right time’. He commented that during ‘the school run, we talk about what we see. When we were in London, driving backwards and forwards, we regularly used to see people sitting outside supermarkets and we’d talk about it.’
The future King continued: ‘I’d say to the children, “Why are they there? What’s going on?” I think it’s in all our interests, it’s the right thing to do, to expose the children, at the right stage, in the right dialogue, so they have an understanding. They [will] grow up knowing that actually, do you know what, some of us are very fortunate, some of us need a little bit of a helping hand, some of us need to do a bit more where we can to help others improve their lives.’
William also made similar remarks when speaking to Mary Berry for her Christmas special A Berry Royal Christmas, noting that his children are curious about people’s situation, and ask ‘Why can’t they go home?’.
Prince William’s project to tackle homelessness – Homewards
The campaign will support six locations over the next five years, supporting these communities with experts, partners and funders to come up with an action plan, specific to the area’s needs.
The Foundation will also provide each location with up to £500,000 flexible funding to use as they see fit. Prince William wants to prove that collaboration at a local level can make homelessness ‘rare, brief, and unrepeated’.
Throughout the campaign, His Royal Highness will be joined by celebrity advocates to help raise awareness around homelessness including DJ Sara Cox, TV presenter Gail Porter, England footballers Fara Williams and Tyrone Mings, opera star Sir Bryn Terfel and Spice Girl Geri Horner.
Speaking about his new campaign, the Prince said: ‘I am fortunate to have seen first-hand the tireless work of people and organisations across the sector, the tangible impact their efforts can have and what can be done when communities are able to focus on preventing homelessness, rather than managing it.’
‘It’s a big task, but I firmly believe that by working together it is possible to make homelessness rare, brief, and unrepeated, and I am very much looking forward to working with our six locations to make our ambition a reality.’