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Number of people sleeping rough for the first time in London increased by a third before Christmas

The "disgraceful" rise in people sleeping rough means numbers are almost as high as they were before the pandemic

rough sleeping London

The number of people sleeping rough in London is surging as the cost of living crisis continues to hit households. Image: AR / Unsplash

The number of people sleeping rough for the first time in London before Christmas was up almost a third in a year as the cost of living crisis threatens to push more people into homelessness.

A total of 1,700 people spotted by outreach workers between October and December last year were rough sleeping for the first time, new official figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) found.

That’s up 29 per cent on the same period in 2021 and makes up almost half of the 3,570 total number of people sleeping rough, which itself was a 21 per cent yearly rise and almost back to pre-pandemic levels.

The stark increase highlights how the impact of the cost of living crisis and record rents are pushing low-income households into homelessness, according to Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis. 

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“It is simply disgraceful that the numbers of people forced to sleep on the capital’s streets is very nearly back to the record levels we were seeing before the pandemic,” said Downie. 

“This shows a complete and utter failure to tackle rough sleeping, especially at this critical time when the cost of living crisis is pushing more people into homelessness. 

“It cannot be understated how gruelling, brutal and dangerous life on the streets is – we hear regularly from people who have been attacked, abused and cut off from society. Absolutely no one should be forced to live this way and yet the numbers new to rough sleeping are surging.”

Last summer London mayor Sadiq Khan hailed a steep fall in the number of rough sleepers on London’s streets – down a quarter in the annual Chain figures between April 2021 and March 2022.

At the time he warned “the cost of living crisis threatens to reverse these hard-won gains,” and he has been proven correct since then with steadily increasing figures.

Khan described the rise as “extremely concerning” and called on government ministers to do more to tackle the cost of living as well as delivering on promises to end no-fault evictions from private rental property.

Khan said: “It is high time ministers got a grip on the escalating food, energy and housing crises and restored the social security safety net which helps stop people becoming trapped in a cycle of homelessness.”

The latest statistics also show the number of people intermittently sleeping rough was almost a quarter higher than the same period last year.

However, figures show that outreach workers ensured three-quarters of the people who slept rough for the first time did so for just one night. A total of 23 per cent slept rough for more than one night but only 2 per cent were judged to be living on the streets for a longer period.

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Overall, the 451 people deemed to be living on the streets was 8 per cent lower than the same time last year but still represents an 8 per cent increase compared to before the pandemic in October to December 2019.

Meanwhile 92 per cent of the people moved off the streets were placed in emergency or temporary accommodation as London’s housing crisis means councils are unable to find a long-term place for people to stay.

The Westminster government has pledged to end rough sleeping by 2024 and published a strategy last year outlining how it plans to meet the 2019 manifesto target.

But Crisis warned the figures show the need to raise housing benefit to stop struggling households heading to the streets while calling for long-term investment in affordable social housing.

Around 300,000 households could be made homeless without government action, the charity estimated.

“Enough is enough,” said Downie. “The Westminster Government pledged to end rough sleeping by 2024 – if it wants to get anywhere near to this, we must see investment in housing benefit in the upcoming budget so people can afford to rent and keep a home. 

“No more empty promises, people rough sleeping need to see action.”

Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson – who warned this week that a fifth of homeless charities have already reduced services in response to cost of living pressures – added: “Due to inflation, the funding announced in 2021, before the cost of living crisis, is simply no longer enough. We need to see a funding uplift in line with inflation for homelessness support in the upcoming Spring Budget to ensure services are able to continue providing vital support to people experiencing homelessness.” 

The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been approached for comment.

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