Rough sleeping in London increased during the Covid-19 lockdown, says CHAIN

While the Everyone In scheme has made huge strides in helping rough sleepers, the number of people newly living on the streets has risen with experts claiming it shows “the true number” of hidden homelessness

New figures have revealed that the number of people sleeping rough in London during lockdown rose by a third when compared to the same period last year, despite the success of the Everybody In scheme.

Rather than showing a snapshot figure of rough sleeping from one night – as has been the criticism levelled at the majority of official counts – the London-only CHAIN figures see multiple agencies tracking the flow of rough sleeping over time.

The April to June figures show that almost two-thirds of the 4,227 people recorded as sleeping rough in the English capital were doing so for the first time – that is a 77 per cent rise over the amount of people introduced to the streets in the same period last year.

In a blog analysing the figures, Matt Downie MBE, Crisis director of policy and external affairs, said that the figures showed the “true number” of people without a home who had been hidden from view, staying with friends and sleeping on sofas.

At the beginning of the pandemic the government showed what can be done when there is the political will required to end rough sleeping

While 4,450 vulnerable people, many of whom were sleeping rough or in overcrowded accommodation, were housed during the Everyone In scheme, lockdown rules and the economic fallout from the pandemic have pushed others into the places they vacated.

He said: “We urge the government to build on Everyone In’s success, and to introduce legislation to ensure that everyone who is sleeping rough, or is at risk, can access emergency accommodation in the next 12 months. Without this, we will continue to see increasing rough sleeping – especially once protections like the evictions ban and the furlough scheme wind down.

“Ending rough sleeping has always been possible. Everyone In has shown the way, and now we need political will and reforms to make our shared vision a reality.”

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Hidden homelessness is a particularly prevalent problem among young people and that is reflected in youth homelessness charity Centrepoint’s analysis of the figures.

They found that the number of under-25s sleeping rough has risen by a higher amount than any other age group.

There were 449 children and young people living on the streets between April and June and that figure is 81 per cent higher than the same period in 2019 when 248 youngsters were on the streets.

“It’s hugely worrying to see such a steep increase in the number of young people left with no option but to sleep rough and, with government policy focussing increasingly on entrenched rough sleepers, it’s vital more specialist support is made available for under-25s,” said Seyi Obakin, chief executive of Centrepoint.

“At the beginning of the pandemic the government showed what can be done when there is the political will required to end rough sleeping. Those early initiatives averted a human tragedy but, to prevent one unfolding on the streets of our towns and cities in the coming months, ministers must rediscover that ambition to ensure charities and councils can support those facing homelessness.”

The rise in rough sleeping after the initial efforts to bring Everyone In demonstrates why The Big Issue has set up the Ride Out Recession Alliance to prevent homelessness and protect jobs.