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Housing

Number of people living on the street in London is highest since 2019

The government has announced a new £66m fund to support rough sleepers this winter. New figures from London show the scale of the challenge ahead.

The government has announced a new £66m fund to support rough sleepers this winter – as new statistics show the number of people “living on the streets” in London is the highest it has been for two years.

Michael Gove’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced three new funding packages as part of the £640m of annual funding announced in Rishi Sunak’s Budget to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness.

More than 60 councils will get a share of a £52m fund to provide drug and alcohol support to rough sleepers or those at risk.

A £3.8m transformation fund will help 60 voluntary, faith and community groups convert sheltered accommodation into self-contained housing, and another £10m will be given to the hardest-hit local authorities to help with winter pressures.

Up to 3,500 people sleeping rough will be provided with emergency accommodation.

Rick Henderson, CEO at charity Homeless Link, said: “As the winter months approach, it’s vital organisations have the capacity to provide single room accommodation to help reduce the number of people sleeping rough, while minimising the risk of spreading Covid-19.

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“I hope this winter provides a blueprint for future models of winter homelessness support with single room accommodation becoming the norm,” he said.

Rough sleeping and housing minister Eddie Hughes added: “Rough sleepers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we must help them off the streets and end the plight of rough sleeping once and for all.”

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The announcement coincided with the release of the latest London Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) statistics, which show 2,918 people had slept rough for at least one night in London between July and September 2021.

That’s down year-on-year – there were 3,444 in July to September 2020 – but has risen from April to June this year when there were 2,589 people sleeping rough in London.

And the number of people deemed to be “living on the streets” between July and September this year was 425 – up from 395 in April to June.

It’s also a rise of 26 per cent year-on-year and higher than in March 2020, when the figure was 377. It is the highest figure since October to December 2019, when 455 people were living on the streets.

A person is deemed to be living on the streets if they have had a “high number of contacts over three weeks or more which suggests they are living on the streets”.

Sign the Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness petition and find out how you can get involved here.

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The London-only Chain figures are considered one of the most accurate measures of rough sleeping as they track the flow of rough sleeping rather than official counts which rely on single-night counts and estimates from local authorities.

Two London youth homelessness charities – Centrepoint and New Horizon Youth Centre – say the government must do more as there are still more young homeless people sleeping rough than before the pandemic. One in every 10 people sleeping rough is under 25.

Paul Brocklehurst of Centrepoint said the government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024 is a “long way off”.

“We know from the callers on our helpline that these statistics often underestimate the scale of the problem and fail to include the thousands of hidden homeless young people who are sofa surfing, sleeping on public transport or staying with strangers every night,” he said.

“It is not surprising that 1 in 10 rough sleepers are still young people, as many are suffering from long-term unemployment and the economic fallout from the pandemic. And as we near the winter months, young people are coping with Universal Credit cuts and rising energy prices.

“Now is not the time to be complacent. It’s time funding allocations recognised that even more young people are being put at risk of homelessness. Local authorities’ homeless prevention teams, night shelters and homelessness services must reflect the needs of all age groups, including young people, and this specialised support now needs to be extended across the country to allow young people to turn their lives around for good.”

Responding to the Chain figures, Crisis’s policy director Matt Downie said while it was good to see numbers dropping, it was important they didn’t creep back up.

He said: “The funding is welcome, but for this to make a real impact the money must be used immediately on effective solutions, like a national roll-out of Housing First, so people with complex support needs get the right help to end their homelessness for good.” 

The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign is aiming to prevent thousands of people from losing their home this winter before falling into rough sleeping.

To do that, The Big Issue is asking for £360m of rent arrears to be paid off. The ask has been partially met by the government which has pledged £65m to help vulnerable renters this winter.

The Big Issue is also demanding the government makes good on its promise to end no-fault evictions – which allow landlords to evict without giving a reason – and more support to allow people to train and work in sustainable industries.

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