Christmas can be particularly challenging time for people who are homeless and face isolation and loneliness over the festive period. Image: Flickr / Cliff Judson
Almost 230,000 households across Britain are experiencing homelessness this Christmas and will spend the holidays sleeping on the streets, in cars or sheds or stuck in insecure accommodation.
Most of the 227,000 families and individuals are in England, according to the research by Crisis and Heriot Watt University, with the country accounting for 203,400 households compared to 14,260 in Scotland and 9,380 in Wales.
Although England has a higher population, it also has higher levels of homelessness than Wales and Scotland. In total, 0.86 per cent of households in England are homeless compared to 0.69 per cent in Wales and 0.57 per cent in Scotland.
The homelessness charity is warning that homelessness is projected to rise over the next two decades to 350,000 households in Britain by 2041, including 320,000 in England.
“No-one should be without a place to call home now or at any time of year. It is utterly devastating that throughout Britain thousands of people are facing a Christmas on the streets, trying to shelter in places like a car or stuck living in one room in a B&B with no proper cooking or washing facilities. It shouldn’t have to be like this,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis.
Londoner Em*, 44, was homeless over Christmas in 2019 after she returned to the UK after a decade spent living in France.
She told The Big Issue: “I actually stopped celebrating Christmas about 20 years ago. It feels like people are turning the other way. That’s quite painful and you just kind of harden up from that feeling. Humans deserve better. All of us deserve to be counted and valued and cared for.”
Em, who had been sleeping rough two decades previously, spent eight months sofa surfing until she “exhausted all friendships” as she sought support from her local authority to find a place to live.
But as the festive season kicked in she found herself back on the streets so she referred herself to StreetLink – a service running in England and Wales to report rough sleepers to support services.
“I remembered to phone StreetLink and the incredible thing, it was just my luck, was that they told me Crisis’ Christmas shelter was open now and I was very close.
“I went and it was like a step into another world really. I started to get some real support and I had spent months trying to go through the bureaucratic process of registering myself as homeless to get support from the system. They found me a place to sleep and treated me with dignity and respect and support and love. It was just the most beautiful gift ever.”
That step has set Em on a life-changing path. She will be spending Christmas 2021 at her own shared flat and will be volunteering at the local community centre to help people in the same position where she was just two years ago.
“I feel really fortunate that I can choose what I want to do on Christmas Day,” she added.
“I’m going to the local community centre. Every Christmas Day they have a big meal for anybody who wants to come, and I will be there helping out with the meal and making people feel nice. I might even be playing Christmas music on the piano!”
Crisis’ research found different housing and homelessness policies are leading to a higher rate of homelessness in England, citing a better supply of social housing and more inclusive access to homelessness services in devolved nations.
That’s one of the driving factors behind the 22,600 households stuck in B&Bs in England – three times higher than in 2012 – out of 25,000 families and individuals across Britain.
The charity criticised government policies that risk driving more families into homelessness.
In a warning that The Big Issue has also sounded through the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, Crisis said cuts to Covid-19 support measures like the £20 universal credit increase and the eviction ban risks causing rising homelessness. The charity also warned freezing housing benefit rates also risks pushing families into homelessness.
“These predictions for rising homelessness levels are stark, but with the right government action to end homelessness for all, we can make sure they don’t become a reality,” added Sparkes. “Last year, we saw the difference government action made, helping people off the streets and into emergency accommodation. We need to see all governments act to make sure everyone has a safe and secure home and to help people avoid homelessness before it happens.”
Announcing the funding, Rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said the money will “help thousands of people across England, with councils able to prevent homelessness before it occurs”.
“I was just kind of shuffling around and I don’t know where to go. It was cold and I was really dejected,” she told The Big Issue. “I just found a cafe where you could sort of sit outside and not really draw attention. I felt faint and just exhausted and overwhelmed.
Urgent action is needed to prevent even more people being pushed into homelessness. A secure home is the first step in addressing the cruel cycle of poverty to ensure people can fulfil their potential. Join us to keep people in their homes.