Housing

More than 400 rough sleepers in Leeds raises concerns for charities

Experts warned of a 'bleak future' for some young people as unemployment and homelessness figures grow

Charities have called on the government not to forget about rough sleepers, following a stark new report that found more than 400 people were sleeping rough in Leeds in 2019. 

The report, which was commissioned after the deaths of 10 homeless people between October 2017 and March 2019, identified 900 “known street-users” in the city.

Some 446 people were recorded rough sleeping during 2019, and 541 individuals were reported begging at least once, according to the report.

The review was carried out by Leeds City Council and partners to assist those currently living a street-based lifestyle and will be discussed by senior councillors.

Frontline activists recently told the Big Issue that rough sleepers face a deadly double threat of cold weather and Covid-19 as “significant” numbers return to the streets.  

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During the lockdown, councils were given £3.2 million to provide emergency shelter for homeless people under the Everyone In scheme, but the funding has now been scaled back.

A spokesperson from the Crisis charity said the Everyone In scheme meant it was hard to predict the current levels of people rough sleeping was hard to predict as a result of the scheme. 

The only recent data on the numbers of people rough sleeping were released for London and was conducted by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network.

They found that despite the Everyone In scheme, 4,227 people were recorded as sleeping rough in the capital between March and June – a 33 per cent increase on the same period last year. More than half of those were homeless for the first time.

Back in Leeds, the review found that street-users were overwhelmingly male, and the average age of those surveyed was 38 but some were as young as 23. 

Of the more than  400 “verified individuals” seen rough sleeping in Leeds, almost all had some form of substance misuse issue, with alcohol and drug use prevalent. 

“For those on the street for the first time, especially younger adults, experiencing homelessness can make them extremely vulnerable, and they face multifarious challenges,” the report read. 

“There is an increased risk of exploitation, violence and abuse against them, trafficking, and involvement in gang or organised criminal activity.” 

Paul Brocklehurst, helpline manager for the Centrepoint charity, which helps young homeless people, said “sadly this wasn’t surprising”. 

He said: “Homelessness has been increasing, even pre-pandemic. Early intervention is really vital to make sure young people don’t end up in situations where they can be exploited.” 

Daniel Dumoulin, head of rough sleeping services at the Depaul charity, urged the government not to forget about rough sleepers, and particularly young people, in the months ahead. 

He said: “Since the beginning of lockdown, we have found that a higher proportion of young people accessing homelessness services across England have been sleeping rough. 

“National, regional and local governments need to respond by funding more homelessness accommodation specifically for young people. 

“Our own research tells us that young people feel unsafe and are sometimes harmed in mixed-age accommodation. As more young people lose their jobs and fear a bleak future, we should at least make sure that they have a safe place to sleep.”

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