Opinion

All the ways the next government can and must end rough sleeping for good

Ending rough sleeping and wider homelessness crises may seem like an impossible challenge – but Centrepoint's Tom Kerridge insists that change can happen

Image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Last week, we were served with a stark reminder of the scale of rough sleeping in our capital. 11,993 people were seen rough sleeping in London between 2023 and 2024, according to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) annual report – a 19% increase on the year before. These figures are devastating, but even more worrying is the 33% increase in young people aged 18-25 seen rough sleeping during this period. A further 13 were under the age of 18.

Frontline organisations like New Horizon Youth Centre in Camden can back this up too – they are seeing more young people come through their doors than at any time in their 57-year history, and now more than 40% of the young people visiting the centre are rough sleeping, up from a third the year before.

Young people experiencing any form of homelessness are incredibly vulnerable, but rough sleeping exposes them to a range of threats and potential exploitation. Too often these young people, many of whom have gone through recent family or relationship breakdown, are left with no option but to spend their nights sleeping in parks or tents – putting them at risk of abuse or harm from those around them.

We do know that it is possible to end rough sleeping if the political will is there. Sadly, any progress we saw through the ‘Everyone In‘ initiative has gradually reversed as the number of rough sleepers reported by CHAIN has increased by more than 1,000 since the initiative’s implementation in March 2020.

Alongside rough sleeping, other forms of homelessness have increased significantly. This is pushing local councils, who are legally responsible for providing support to anyone facing homelessness, to breaking point. The ongoing housing crisis has meant that a record number of households have been pushed into living in temporary accommodation. This is eating upcouncil’s already limited resources, forcing many to make a near impossible choice on who does and who does not get support.

While everyone facing homelessness is vulnerable, some councils are rationing their services – meaning that young people struggle to receive assessments, let alone support. In the last year, for example, more than 400 young people have contacted the Centrepoint Helpline for assistance because they have not been able to get in touch with or receive support from their local authority, despite the statutory duty for councils to do exactly that.

This is the sad reality facing our country, and we need the next government to do everything it can to end rough sleeping, and all forms of homelessness, for good. This includes moving away from moves to criminalise rough sleeping and ensuring that the Vagrancy Act is finally scrapped for good.

Beyond this, the next government needs to provide local councils and other agencies with the resources to prevent rough sleeping – particularly at a young age. It also requires more intervention and funding for emergency bed spaces for rough sleepers and the delivery of trauma-informed, holistic support and care – like those provided through supported housing and Housing First programmes. Both deserve more investment from the next administration.

Action to end rough sleeping shouldn’t stop there – the next government needs to build at least 90,000 social homes, with a focus on making a significant proportion of these one-bedroom properties for single, young households.

We also need to see guaranteed support for homeless young people when they first present to their local council as homeless or at risk of homelessness. Recent research from Centrepoint revealed that local councils need at least £330m in additional funding to assess and support young people facing homelessness.

And for the more than a third of young people who were not assessed by their local councils last year, we want the next government to work with young people and the youth homelessness sector to add a chapter to the Homelessness Code of Guidance.

This work should clarify the obligations of local councils at all stages to ensure acceptable practices are followed from presentation right through to the assessment stage across. Making clear what factors may need to be considered when a young person presents as homeless will be key, as well as what should be considered as proof for when they do present for a homelessness assessment.

Though the scale of rough sleeping and wider homelessness crises may seem like an impossible challenge right now, we know that with political will and commitment to the steps outlined above, change can happen. It won’t be straightforward, but we welcome the next government to take on this challenge.

Dr Tom Kerridge is policy and research manager at young people’s homelessness charity Centrepoint.

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