Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Gone missing

March 01 2021

Every issue of the Pavement we run a Missing People advert
(see p2). Here Kate Graham from the organisation reveals how effective those ads can be

Research suggests that around half of the people who are homeless had run away or been forced to leave home which is why sleeping rough is “a common experience” for both missing adults and children. There are also links between going missing as a child and adult homelessness, with research finding that 84% of young homeless people had previously run away before the age of 16. There are similarities in the causes of homelessness and going missing, including relationship breakdown, mental health problems, and financial issues.
Going missing is not an offence. Adults have the right to go missing unless they have been detained under the Mental Health Act or are legally in the care of another person. Children (18 or under) have to be searched for and returned to a place of safety, but going missing is not a crime for a child either. The police and any other professionals involved should always just be trying to support you and make you safe.

If you are an adult and don’t want to return home and don’t want to be considered as a missing person, you will still need to speak to police so they can close the case. If they think you are safe and don’t need any further support, they will end their investigation and if you don’t want them to, they shouldn’t pass any information about where you are to your family or friends. This confidence will only be breached if they don’t think you’re safe and they have a duty to get you support.

More info and help at

Case study: Ben*

Ben was made to feel like a burden on the family, so he decided to leave, thinking that they would be happier without him. He was just 10 years old when he first ran away from home.
Luckily, Ben was found by a concerned nurse, and taken home. However, when things at home didn’t change, Ben ran away again. And again. And again.
When he was 12 he ended up in London. He was threatened with knives and machetes and robbed of his possessions. He became engrossed in a gritty underworld of drugs, prostitution and sexual predators.
Eventually he settled on the streets as a beggar. After a fellow street beggar offered advice, Ben knew not to take the free heroin that was offered in a bid to draw him into a world of addiction and debt with local drug pushers. He spent years on the streets, his family not knowing where he was, and the authorities not knowing that he needed help.
Running away was Ben’s cry for help, but nobody was there to answer him.

Case study: Bruno*

Police were notified by a homeless shelter that one of their service users, Bruno, had not been seen in several weeks. When Missing People were informed, they published Bruno’s appeal on their social media platforms and targeted poster publicity around the Ealing area where Bruno was known to live.
Just over a week after Bruno was reported missing, he made himself known to police who confirmed that he was safe and well. The officer involved in the case highlighted the effectiveness of the charity’s poster publicity, indicating that Bruno ‘saw [Missing People’s] poster and made contact’ with the police as a direct result.

*Some details have been changed to protect the missing person’s identity.

Going home

People often go missing because they are struggling with something in their life. That might not have gone away just because they’re back.

Missing People suggest giving the person who was missing space when they first get back. “Try to make them feel welcome, and make sure they have anything they need immediately, such as food, water, warmth and sleep. It might not be helpful to start asking lots of questions about what’s been happening straight away. Some people need time and space, and interrogating questions may feel overwhelming, even if they are coming from a supportive place. We also know some returned missing people felt like loved ones ignored the missing episode. This may have been because they just didn’t know how to talk about it. Once it feels right to, it’s good to gently explore whether your person is okay. Ask them: "Is there anything you want to talk about?” Then listen deeply and without judgement.