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More than 200,000 households across England will be homeless this Christmas

State of homelessness in England revealed as Crisis prepares to open their Christmas services

More than 200,000 households will be experiencing the worst forms of homelessness this Christmas, including sleeping on the streets, hunkered down in sheds and garages, stuck in unstable accommodation such as B&Bs or sofa surfing far away from their support networks, new research from national homelessness charity Crisis reveals today. 

This comprehensive annual study, commissioned by Crisis and carried out by Heriot-Watt University, shows that for the last five years homelessness has been rising year on year, reaching a peak just before the pandemic when the numbers of homeless households jumped from 207,600 in 2018 to over 219,000 at the end of 2019.

A slight reduction this year follows bold government action in response to the pandemic, to support people sleeping rough and in other insecure situations to move into emergency accommodation including hotels. The fact that, despite this unprecedented effort, so many will still be without a home this Christmas, shows how grave England’s homelessness situation has become. On any given night, the research shows, one in 185 people are still without a home.

Following the Chancellor’s warning that the economic emergency brought on by the pandemic has only just begun, and with unemployment expected to peak at 2.6 million next year, the charity warns that the progress made in 2020 to tackle homelessness is at risk of being undone. Crisis is calling on the government to take a longer-term approach to tackling homelessness, starting with addressing the severe shortage of social housing and ensuring that housing benefit continues to cover the true cost of rents.

Across the country, the research suggests that areas that the government has placed at the heart of its “levelling up” agenda have experienced the biggest increases in homelessness over the last five years:

  • In the Northern regions – where poverty, destitution and problems with poor housing are more acute – homelessness has risen by 20%
  • While in London and the South – where homelessness is traditionally higher because of a lack of affordable housing– rates have slightly decreased by 8% and 4% respectively.

While rough sleeping remains the most visible form of homelessness, the research also reveals that more than nine in ten (95%) of homeless households in England are hidden from view; drifting from sofa to sofa or trapped in insecure, temporary accommodation.

Caroline, who is in her 30s, and from Birmingham has been forced to sofa surf for the last four weeks after she was evicted from a hostel when her room became unclean as she struggled to cope with her severe depression. Despite appealing the decision, and that it would make her homeless just as the country went into a second national lockdown, Caroline was asked to leave with a week’s notice and has been sofa surfing ever since.

Talking about her experience Caroline said: “When I was asked to the leave the hostel, it was really traumatic for me as it coincided with my mental health being at rock bottom. One friend said I could stay at his for a few days, but he has a dog, I felt like I was in the way and I didn’t feel safe at night, so I decided to leave.

“Since then, it’s been a few nights here a few nights there – no one realises how difficult it is, you constantly feel like a burden, your sleeping pattern is so disrupted, and you have no privacy. I often get to a point where I can feel the tension starting to rise and then I have to move on.

“I’m on the waiting list for social housing and have been bidding on properties for the last seven months but I’m not getting anywhere. The thought of having to sofa surf for months on end is enough to send me into a tailspin – but for now I have no other option.”

The stark new findings come as Crisis prepares to help over a thousand people affected by homelessness during the Christmas period. Unable to open their traditional centres this year because of the pandemic, the charity will instead be providing hotel accommodation for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough, as well as delivering food and wellbeing packs and offering a telephone befriending service to people who are homeless and alone this Christmas.

Commenting on the research Jon Sparkes, Crisis Chief Executive, said: “Homelessness is dangerous and devastating, and yet this Christmas there will be thousands of people sleeping on strangers’ floors, freezing in flimsy tents or trapped in rundown B&Bs with nowhere else to go and no one to be with.

“It’s unquestionable that the emergency measures taken to support people sleeping rough into safe accommodation, and the introduction of a ban on evictions, had a significant impact and protected the lives of thousands. With the economic damage of the pandemic set to be long-lasting, and with millions expected to be out of work by early next year, there is a very real risk homelessness will increase unless urgent action is taken.

“We cannot let the progress made this year unravel. We must look towards longer-term solutions, such as building the social homes we desperately need and ensuring that housing benefit continues to cover the true cost of rents, so that people can afford to keep their homes.

“While this Christmas will be different for all of us, Crisis will still be there for the people that need us - providing a safe place to stay, companionship, food and support – and hope for a future away from homelessness.”

People can support Crisis this Christmas by donating £28.22 which will provide people experiencing homelessness with a life changing gift of somewhere to stay, food, friendship, care and advice. Please visit 


Notes to Editor

1. Research methodology

The core homelessness estimates are calculated by combining data from a range of sources - household surveys, statutory statistics, administrative data and specialised surveys of services and their users - to produce the most up to date estimate of the worst forms of homelessness. There have been changes to the data set based on improved and enhanced data collection since the last iteration of the core homelessness series.  This means the data series presented in this briefing is not a precise comparison to previous publications of core homelessness in 2017 and 2018, but the basic definition and focus is the same. The research has calculated low, mid and high range estimates, and the mid-range figures have been used.

The analysis uses evidence about the length of time over which people experience different forms of homelessness. This is necessary because different sources measure over different time periods, and it is helpful in minimising double counting. The estimates also make allowances for the extent to which different sources do or do not cover certain groups, for example people who do not apply to a local authority for assistance, or the under-representation of people who move around a lot in some surveys. For each of the five categories of core homelessness we draw on at least four (and in some cases 5 or 6) different data sources, combining these in a way which reflects judgements on the robustness of the different sources.

*2020 data includes COVID emergency accommodation in the hostels, refuges and night shelters category

**Unconventional accommodation includes people sleeping and squatting in places/spaces not intended as normal residential accommodation, e.g. cars, vans, lorries, caravans/motor home, tents, boats, sheds, garages, industrial/commercial premises

2. The ‘one in 185 people are still without a home’ statistic is based on the estimate that 202,300 households experiencing core homelessness on any given night is the equivalent to approximately 303,000 people. Based on the Office for National Statistics mid population estimates for England this equates to approximately one in 185 people.