Rough sleeping up 21% in London over last year ahead of “inevitable rise”

New annual figures show that the number of people living on the streets was already increasing ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic with charities warning that the virus' impact could mean a winter crisis

The number of people sleeping on the streets of London soared more than 20 per cent between April 2019 and March year, new figures show, ahead of what charities say will be an “inevitable rise” in rough sleeping when the eviction ban and furlough scheme end.

Data from CHAIN, which sees multiple agencies tracking the flow of rough sleeping over time rather than snapshot figures from one night, revealed 10,726 people were seen on the streets by outreach workers in 2019/20.

And 7,053 of them – 66 per cent – were sleeping rough for the first time. More than half said they had come from some kind of long-term settled accommodation including 38 per cent from a privately rented home.

As in previous years, new rough sleepers most frequently said they were left homeless after being evicted or asked to leave by the person they were staying with (36 per cent).

Nearly 1,300 – 12 per cent – of the people recorded had returned to rough sleeping after at least a year away.

Government must heed this wake-up call. With coronavirus cases rising, lives are at risk

With the new figures showing that rough sleeping was already on the rise in the English capital before the Covid-19 crisis gripped the UK, there are concerns that the homelessness crisis will worsen as the recession pulls the economy down in the coming months.

Glass Door CEO Lucy Abraham said she was “saddened but not surprised” by the increase: “We are saddened but not surprised to see that there was a 21 per cent increase in rough sleeping in London.

“We are not surprised because this matches what we saw at Glass Door last winter. More individuals came to us looking for basic shelter than ever before. We offered 20,527 spaces for sleeping — the most in the charity’s history. And yet, for every 10 people who found safety and shelter with us, 14 others never progressed off the waiting list. People sometimes waited weeks to secure a space on a church floor.

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“The figures released today represent a steep increase in rough sleeping in London even before we see the impact of coronavirus on homelessness. We are predicting an inevitable rise in street homelessness once the eviction prevention and furlough schemes end. London’s homelessness crisis is worsening and we need to act together now to prevent a devastating winter.”

That sentiment was echoed by Steve Douglas CBE, chief executive of St Mungo’s, the charity behind the figures.

“The crisis is not over for people sleeping rough, and even now, the numbers are rising again. There is an urgency to develop longer term solutions that tackle the scourge of homelessness for good,” said Douglas.

“We, like the many homelessness charities across the capital, are committed to working with the Greater London Authority, national and local government to achieve this.

“The data shows, for example, the excellent work done by local authority funded outreach teams through the ‘No Second Night Out’ (NSNO) services in helping people off the streets quickly, with 1,773 people accessing NSNO services last year.”

However, an analysis of the report by charity Thames Reach, warned that there was a “real danger” that people are new to rough sleeping could become entrenched as the NSNO hubs have been largely closed since March due to social distancing requirements at the shared facilities the services rely on.

Meanwhile, Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes stresses that the good work already done by the Government in the pandemic with the Everyone In scheme risks being undone unless .

He said: “Government must heed this wake-up call. With coronavirus cases rising, lives are at risk. As the cold winter months approach, we simply can’t see thousands of people sleeping rough, nor can we rely on crowded emergency night shelters where the risk of transmission is incredibly high.

“We urgently need emergency measures to protect everyone without a home from the outbreak. We must also tackle the root causes of homelessness, which include high rents and a lack of truly affordable housing, if we are ever to achieve the government’s goal of ending rough sleeping for good.”