A significant rise in the number of rough sleepers counted on the streets of Wales has been described as “no surprise” by the minister responsible for homelessness.
The latest official figures, released today, saw local authorities estimate that 405 people slept rough across Wales between October 14 and 27 – an increase of 17 per cent over the 2018 count.
Similarly, the one-night snapshot count showed that 176 people slept rough in the country on November 7, which is also up by 11 per cent.
We are not, however, surprised by the increase. It reflects the reality of what we see on our streets, the complexity of the issues and the discussions we have with stakeholders
Commenting on the figures, Julie James AM, the Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government, responded by pointing the finger at the UK Government’s austerity and welfare policies.
She said: “As a government committed to the goal of ending homelessness, we are of course disappointed that the numbers reported in the 2019 count have increased.
“We are not, however, surprised by the increase. It reflects the reality of what we see on our streets, the complexity of the issues and the discussions we have with stakeholders.
#RoughSleeping in Wales has risen by 17%, according to the National Rough Sleeper Count.
Despite a fall in some cities, many rural areas have seen large increases, some over 100%, in the number of people who are sleeping out. pic.twitter.com/OnojZtShcm
— Shelter Cymru (@ShelterCymru) February 4, 2020
“I have set out on a number of occasions that despite our increased investment and groundbreaking preventative legislation, local authorities are facing a rising tide in the numbers of people sleeping rough, due in no small part to the impact of the UK government’s austerity policies and the impact of welfare reforms.”
However, both James and charities have pointed to the work of the Homelessness Action Group as key to ensuring that fewer people are sleeping on the streets.
The group is staffed by experts on homelessness, housing, policing and local authorities including Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes, his Wallich counterpart Lindsay Cordery-Bruce and End Youth Homelessness Cymru chair Frances Beecher.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
They delivered their first report in October 2019 with a series of recommendations on reducing rough sleeping in the short term and preventing rough sleeping altogether.
The group called for well-trained assertive outreach workers with the power to help rough sleepers into accommodation, addressing barriers to support, ensuring emergency and temporary alternatives to rough sleeping are available and maximising available social homes.
However, the figures released today come from counts carried out before these recommendations could be implemented. A new Homelessness Action Group report is due to be published in March.
The National rough sleeper count has been released (https://t.co/3482CLN4XB). On day of draft budget debate. Increase in rough sleepers of 17% compared to October in 2018. This is why #HousingMattersWales campaign calls for extra funding for Housing First.
— Cymorth Cymru (@CymorthCymru) February 4, 2020
Cymorth Cymru director Katie Dalton, who is a part of the group, insisted that Welsh ministers should increase housing support in their budget to prevent more people being forced on to the streets.
“Although this data has its limitations, it is nevertheless concerning to see the largest year-on-year increase in rough sleeping since the two-week count began,” she said.
“We are heartened by the Welsh Government’s response to the recent Homelessness Action Group report on rough sleeping and hope that sustained efforts locally and nationally will see the figures reduce in future years.
“However, we urge ministers to take action this month and increase the Housing Support Grant in their final budget for 2020/21. Services are working incredibly hard to support people experiencing homelessness but have faced real-term cuts of more than £37m since 2012.
“At the same time, the UK government must take responsibility and tackle the structural issues that push people into homelessness, such as austerity and harmful welfare policies.”
Rough sleeping figures proved tricky for Boris Johnson last week after he made an incorrect claim about England’s figures. We fact-checked Johnson’s claim in this week’s Big Issue magazine.