Housing

'We’re starting to see the reality now’: Nearly 170,000 people are homeless in London

One in 53 people living in London are without a home, according to Shelter, amid warning that feared surge in homelessness has arrived.

homelessness

Families like Tomasz's are stuck in cramped temporary accommodation this Christmas. Image: Shelter

The surge in homelessness predicted in the pandemic has started to become a reality with one in every 53 people living in London currently without a home.

Housing charity Shelter sounded the warning after finding 700 people are living on the street in the English capital every night, while nearly 168,000 people are without a permanent home, including 86,000 children. 

Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said a feared rise in homelessness following the end of Covid-19 protections is now starting to manifest itself. The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign has also called for action in recent months to prevent people losing their home.

“We predicted the pandemic would trigger a rising tide of evictions and our services are starting to see the reality of this now,” said Neate in a plea for donations to support the charity’s frontline workers. “We’re flooded with calls from families and people of all ages who are homeless or on the verge of losing their home.

“It is shameful that 170,000 people in London are without a home, and with Covid protections now gone thousands more will be joining them. A shoddy hostel room or a freezing cold doorway is no place to wake up on Christmas morning, but sadly so many people will.”

Shelter’s analysis of official rough sleeping figures and temporary accommodation statistics found many of the initiatives and schemes brought in to protect families during the pandemic have been phased out.

The Everyone In scheme, the eviction ban, the £20 increase to universal credit and the furlough scheme have all disappeared in the last few months. In their wake, living costs have soared and the Omicron variant has meant uncertainty is still hanging over workers and businesses.

The impact of that is being felt most keenly in Newham, which has the highest rates of homelessness – one in 22 people. The borough is followed by one in 29 people in Kensington and Chelsea, while in Haringey one in 31 people are without a home. 

Shelter warned the statistics are likely to be an underestimate due to limited reporting while some people experiencing types of homelessness like sofa surfing are also missing from the figures.

But many families are still forced to rely on makeshift temporary accommodation to keep a roof over their head this winter. 

Tomasz, his wife and young children were living in a shed in the garden of an emergency hostel in Ilford after the maintenance worker was evicted from his home in August.

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Priced out of the private rental market, the family now share a cramped hostel. 

“In the room the main difficulty is the lack of space. A lot of the time the kids have to sit on the bed to eat and everything is in boxes. School work is such a difficulty. Everything is a challenge,” said Tomasz.

“This Christmas I’m telling the kids that Santa will still be able to find them. I’m trying to make it better by putting up a small Christmas tree on the shelf and a Christmas light in the window. I want to try and make it as normal as possible but it’s so stressful and depressing.”

Responding to the figures, Claire Harding, research director of Centre for London, said the temporary accommodation system in London needs an overhaul to stop families like Tomasz’s from getting trapped in makeshift homes.

“Councils have a legal and moral duty to help homeless families but don’t have the money or property to do it well,” said Harding. “This means that too many families are stuck in a system that makes it much harder for them to escape poverty by getting a better job, or by doing well at school or college. 

“We need new solutions which could work across the city to get us out of this mess, and to get the most vulnerable Londoners the homes they need and deserve.”

The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign is also calling for action to prevent thousands of families losing their home this winter. Here’s how you can get involved.

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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