Homelessness: Rough sleeping falls across England

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Media caption“The worst part is not being seen”, rough sleepers told Victoria Derbyshire

The number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on one night in England has fallen for the second year running.

Government figures showed 4,266 people sleeping outside in the autumn 2019 snapshot, a fall of 9% on the year before.

Separate figures obtained from councils by the BBC suggested 25,000 individuals were identified as sleeping rough in England at some point in the year.

The government has pledged a further £236m to tackle homelessness.

The single night snapshot also showed the first fall in London for six years, with 1,136 people recorded on the night of the count.

The snapshot suggests rough sleeping has increased by 141% since 2010, rising every year until 2017.

However, the homelessness charities Crisis and Glass Door said the figures did not show the real scale of rough sleeping throughout the year.

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Lucy Abraham, from London homeless charity Glass Door, said: “These statistics grossly underestimate the true scale of homelessness.

“We know that many of the borough-coordinated street counts took place after Glass Door and many other charities had opened their shelter doors to rough sleepers for the winter.

“These figures matter because they are used to allocate resources to tackle homelessness in London. If the government is committed to measuring the number of people who need support around their homelessness, they need to recognise those sleeping in emergency winter night shelters.”

How are rough sleepers counted?

The government’s figures come from councils across England, who either count rough sleepers on one night in autumn or give an estimate based on what they’re told by “local agencies”, such as charities.

The single night can be between 1 October and 30 November.

They count in the autumn because there are likely to be more people sleeping rough in summer “due to higher temperatures”, according to a methodology note published by the government.

The figures collected are then independently verified by Homeless Link, an umbrella organisation for homelessness organisations.

The figures do not include those with a history of sleeping rough or everyone seen throughout the October to November period.

Nor do they include those who are sleeping in emergency shelters or sofa surfing.

The BBC asked councils how many individuals they recorded throughout the year, rather than just for the snapshot, and those that replied revealed about 25,000 individuals seen across England during the most recent year on record.

It was not possible to get figures for individuals for previous years as many councils did not hold them so the snapshot is the only measure of change over time.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey has written to the UK Statistics Authority saying the snapshot is “seriously misleading as it dramatically undercounts the number of people sleeping rough”.

He said: “Any apparent fall in street sleeping is welcome, but everyone knows these misleading statistics are an unreliable undercount of the true scale of the problem.

“Even on these partial figures, the Government is still set to break its pledge to end rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament, which it isn’t set to achieve until 2037 at the current rate of progress.”

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The number of rough sleepers in London fell for first time in six years

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast the government wanted to see rough sleeping “all but eliminated” by the end of 2024.

He defended the snapshot as a “methodology that is broadly the same as other developed countries around the world like Canada and Japan do and is consistent with how we’ve been measuring rough sleeping over the past 10 years”.

In a statement Mr Jenrick added: “Today’s figures show that we are making promising progress, building on last year’s achievement which saw the first fall in the number of people sleeping rough for the first time in eight years.

“It is a moral scandal that in 2020 so many people continue to sleep rough on the streets, and that is why I am determined to end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced £236m of additional funding to get rough sleepers off the streets – on top of £437m planned to deal with homelessness in 2020-21.

The new funding will go towards providing “move-on” accommodation for up to 6,000 rough sleepers.

“We must tackle the scourge of rough sleeping urgently and I will not stop until the thousands of people in this situation are helped off the streets and their lives have been rebuilt,” Mr Johnson said.


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