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Rough sleeping drops in locked-down London but experts warn of long-term rise

3,002 people slept rough in London during the third lockdown between January and March 2021 but The Salvation Army warned the economic downturn could see numbers rise in future

The number of people living long-term on the streets in London plummeted by a quarter during the latest Covid-19 lockdown as the Everyone In scheme continued to have an effect on rough sleeping.

The latest Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) figures found 3,002 people sleeping rough in London in the three-month period – down 10 per cent on the 3,307 recorded between October and December 2020 and a 19 per cent fall from the first quarter of 2020. More than half were sleeping rough for the first time and the majority spent just one night on the streets.

But outreach teams found just 316 people remained living on the streets long-term in the English capital between January and March this year – down 23 per cent on the previous three months – following efforts to protect rough sleepers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

An economic downturn is likely to mean more people are forced to sleep on the streets in the coming months and years

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick called for local authorities to “redouble efforts” to move rough sleepers into hotels and other emergency accommodation through the Everyone In scheme as Covid-19 cases rose at the start of the year.

But the long-term focus of the incoming London Mayor and central government must be on preventing people hit by the economic impact of the pandemic from falling into homelessness, warned Lorrita Johnson, The Salvation Army’s director of homelessness services.

“Although real progress was made as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative and other schemes to help prevent and relieve homelessness during the pandemic, it is vital we keep up the momentum and ensure long-term investment for homelessness services,” said Johnson.

“This is key as an economic downturn is likely to mean more people are forced to sleep on the streets in the coming months and years.”

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The quarterly CHAIN figures, commissioned and funded by the Greater London Authority and managed by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, are widely considered to be more accurate than official national rough sleeping figures. CHAIN statistics see multiple charities and agencies track the flow of rough sleeping over time rather than relying on one-night counts or estimates like the national stats. 

Outreach teams found 1,567 people sleeping rough in London for the first time in the first quarter of 2021 with only 25 people going on to live on the streets. Some 1,226 people spent  one night sleeping rough.

The majority of rough sleepers in the English capital were men – amounting for 86 per cent of the figures – while 14 per cent identified as female.

The Everyone In scheme has protected more than 37,000 people since the emergency measures were brought in to protect rough sleepers following the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. Efforts are ongoing to move people protected in hotels and emergency accommodation through the scheme into long-term accommodation.

CHAIN London graph up January to March 2021
Despite the drop in the number of people seen sleeping rough in London, charities have warned against complacency. Source: CHAIN

The UK Government has pledged to fund 6,000 long-term homes for rough sleepers as part of their £750m spending on tackling homelessness. Ministers are targeting an end to rough sleeping by the end of 2024 but have faced calls from the homelessness sector and the Public Accounts Committee to publish a strategic plan to lay out how they reach that goal.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes re-iterated the call for a long-term plan in his response to the CHAIN figures.

“While fewer people were sleeping rough during this time due to councils going to great lengths to get everyone in, people did continue to fall through the cracks, largely because of their immigration status,” said Sparkes.

“As we move out of the pandemic, a truly impactful and lasting recovery must have ending homelessness at its heart.”

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