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Housing

Rough sleeping in bins falls but campaigners call for ‘constant vigilance’

Waste management company Biffa reports the first decrease in the number of people spotted sheltering in bins for the first time in seven years

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the biggest decline in the number of rough sleepers found seeking shelter in bins for seven years – but waste management firms and homelessness charities have warned “there is still more to do”.

Waste industry company Biffa reported that staff found 29 people between April and December 2020 – down from 102 cases in 2019 – as Covid-19 restrictions and the Everyone In campaign moved rough sleepers off the streets.

The decline ends a seven-year spell in which the number of reported incidents of rough sleeping in bins rose by 14 per cent year-on-year between 2014 and 2019, totalling 740 cases.

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Paul Wright, group health and safety director at Biffa, said the firm had worked closely with homelessness helpline Streetlink to raise awareness of the issue with 25,000 businesses as well as other companies in the waste industry and homelessness charities.

“It requires constant vigilance and Biffa is committed to continuous improvement of industry practices and those of our customers to prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities,” said Wright. 

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“Whilst the decline in our data is reassuring, there is still a way to go and we will continue to develop policies and procedures for widespread adoption to prevent further tragedies.”

Homelessness charity St Mungo’s has contributed to Biffa’s report on rough sleepers found in bins in recent years.

Steve Douglas, chief executive of St Mungo’s who helped Biffa with the report, said: “During this pandemic, through partnership working, we have successfully managed to bring many people rough sleeping into emergency accommodation. However, there is still more to do.

“It is unacceptable that people are so desperate that they will seek refuge in bin containers, especially when these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Another waste management company, BusinessWaste.co.uk, has laid out its own procedures as part of a renewed commitment to prevent rough sleeping in bins.

It is unacceptable that people are so desperate that they will seek refuge in bin containers

The firm recommended others in the industry should fit bins with a working lock to prevent access, train staff to check bins by hitting the sides and place warning signs on the bins themselves. 

“People sheltering in bins are putting their lives at risk, and the only way we can end this is for urgent action to be taken working alongside waste management companies, homeless charities and local communities,” said BusinessWaste.co.uk’s Mark Hall.

“We are looking to safeguard the public from any harm that may occur from sleeping in bins, but also to look after our hard-working staff, who would be traumatised to witness any fatalities while on shift.

“If you see someone who is rough sleeping, make sure to report it to local homeless charities who can check in on them and may be able to provide them with shelter or aid – you could help to save a life this winter.”

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