Skip to main content

More than 24,000 people facing Christmas sleeping rough or in cars, trains, buses and tents, Crisis warns

Charity calls for government to take immediate action to end homelessness across the country 

In the short term, Crisis asks public to support its year-round work and Christmas centres  


More than 24,000 people in Britain will spend Christmas sleeping rough, on public transport, or in tents – far more than there were five years ago, according to new figures released today. 


The research, commissioned by national homelessness charity Crisis and undertaken by Heriot-Watt University shows that 12,300 people are currently sleeping rough on the street and nearly 12,000 are spending their nights in cars, trains, buses or tents.  


The number of people sleeping rough in England is more than double what government statistics suggest. Those are based solely on local authority estimates using local information or a physical count on one given night.  


Crisis and Heriot-Watt’s research completes the picture by collating the government figures with other crucial sources of data. These include academic studies, statutory statistics, and data from other support services that record people’s experiences of sleeping rough which aren’t captured in the government’s count [see more below].  


Shockingly, between 2012 and 2017, the numbers have soared by 120% in England and 63% in Wales. Numbers in Scotland fell by 6% over the same period. 


Those sleeping without a roof over their head are constantly exposed to dangers, including extreme temperatures – but also to abuse, with homeless people almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused compared to the general public, according to previous Crisis research.  


A recent poll for the charity by YouGov showed that the majority of Brits (61%) feel angry, upset, or frustrated about the state of homelessness across the country, and feel the government should do more to tackle the crisis. 


The charity is urging governments across the country to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping, including by strengthening the welfare system and making sure that every homeless person has access to mainstream housing as quickly as possible. 


While the underlying causes of homelessness can only be tackled by policy changes, Crisis is asking members of the public who want to help to do so in a number of ways. Most importantly if you see someone sleeping rough, contact Streetlink (in England & Wales), or the local council in Scotland, to connect that person with the homelessness services in their area. If you have immediate concerns about their welfare, you should call 999. 


The charity is also asking for help to help raise vital funds for its year-round services and its Christmas centres, which provide shelter, warm meals, and vital services to thousands of homeless people over the holidays. The centres also provide vital medical, housing, and other advisory services as well as introducing people to our year-round support which helps people to rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind for good.  


Alex is in his 30s and was homeless for six months last year after his 15-year marriage broke down. With support from Crisis, he now lives in a Housing Association flat and has received ongoing support to help him get back into work. 


 “When my marriage ended, I didn’t want a toxic atmosphere for my kids. I sofa-surfed with a friend for a bit, and then ended up living in a tent in a park in Croydon. I used to think: ‘If someone sees me, maybe they’ll nick whatever I have or attack me.’ That was my fear, that I wouldn’t make it through the night. 


 “To get through it, I used to tell myself it was just an extended camping trip - I made a big effort to look the same as I always did and started each morning with a trip to Crisis’ centre to shower and started doing classes with them.


There’s this stigma that people who are homeless have given up, but that’s not true, I’m not going to just put my feet up. I want to get back to work, ideally in filming, that’s the next step for me.”   


Chief Executive of Crisis Jon Sparkes said:  


“Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but. While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold. 


“This situation simply cannot continue. While the Scottish Government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, full implementation cannot come soon enough. Meanwhile, the governments in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to end this crisis.  


“We know homelessness can be endedEarlier this year we set out the exact government policies that would end homelessness across Britain. Our research shows that, with these policies in place, homelessness could be ended in just ten years. 


“In the meantime, we’re asking members of the public who want to help to support our work this Christmas and year-round – so we can be there for everyone who needs us and give people in the most vulnerable circumstances support to leave homelessness behind for good.”   



Notes to editors: 

  1. What can the public do to help?Crisis is asking the public to donate £28.18 to reserve a place for a homeless person at one of its centres this Christmas. Crisis’ Christmas centres – run by Crisis staff and 11,000 volunteers – run 22nd-29th December across London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Birmingham and Coventry. 


Importantly, we also advise: If you see someone sleeping rough, you should contact Streetlink (in England & Wales), or the local council in Scotland, to connect that person with the homelessness services in their area. If you have immediate concerns about their welfare, you should call 999. There are also things you can do depending on what you are comfortable with. Whether you give, or what you give, is of course a personal choice, but ideas include:   

  • Asking if there is anything they need. It could be a hot drink or food, or some spare change 
  • Providing blankets or warm clothing, like hats, scarfs, socks or gloves 
  • Simply stopping for a conversation or offering a kind word – homelessness can be an incredibly isolating experience 


  1. Why are the rough sleeping figures in the research so much higher than government estimates?
  • The Government’s official annual street count in England found that on a given night in autumn 2017 4,751 people were recorded sleeping rough. This is more than double since 2010. Rough sleeping counts and estimates are single night snapshots of the number of people sleeping rough in local authority areas.  
  • There are a number of reasons why the rough sleeping counts underestimate the number of rough sleepers including that many Local Authorities provide an estimate rather than a true count, that the count is based on visible rough sleepers on a specific given night, and that it does not capture those rough sleeping in hidden locations. In rural areas rough sleeping can be extremely dispersed. The count will also only capture those who are visibly sleeping or about to bed down therefore those active or in transit during the count will be missed. 
  • Crisis’ research is based on the trends observed through the rough sleeping count but looks to provide a more comprehensive picture of rough through triangulating multiple data sources. [Full details of the sources used are presented in research methodology below.] 
  • All the data sources used capture experiences of rough sleeping either through declared experiences or through other support engaged with in which previous rough sleeping is captured. This includes census like surveys that allow for people to declare that they were rough sleeping during specific periods of time, and data from other support services or programmes, such as Supporting People or outreach work that records experiences of rough sleeping of all the individuals they support. The data provided from these sources identifies those people who are missing from the count numbers, and this was collated to estimate a completed picture of numbers of people rough sleeping.   
  • The analysis uses a technique which calculates the number of people experiencing different types of homelessness on any one night in the year. For each household or individual captured in the dataset by year we know the duration of their homelessness and the average time they have experienced each type of homelessness – for example someone may have experienced both rough sleeping and living in a hostel in any given year. In capturing this information the analysis is able to remove double counting from the figures and therefore the research presents one point in time figure for each year.  


  1. Research methodology: The key figures in this release were calculated by homelessness research specialists, Heriot-Watt University. 


  • The analysis estimates that 12,300 people were experiencing rough sleeping at any one time across Great Britain and 11,950 people sleeping in cars, tents and public transport (see table below).  
  • The research has calculated low, mid and high range estimates, and in general the mid-range figures have been used. The rough sleeping figures In England and Scotland are based on triangulating a number of secondary data sources – Supporting People, Multiple Exclusion Homelessness Survey, JRF Destitution survey, Scottish Household Survey, British Cohort Study and Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey.  
  • In Wales the estimate is based on the combined survey of services and annual counts (Welsh Government, National Rough Sleeper Count,  
  • The estimate for the number of people living in car, tents and public transport are based on levels of rough sleeping in Great Britain and has been calculated in relation to a study by Anna Clarke et al (2015) estimating the scale of youth homelessness - Clarke, A., Burgess, G., Morris, S. and Udagawa, C. (2015) Estimating the scale of youth homelessness in the UK: Final report. Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research - This research estimated that the number who reported staying in cars, tents or public transport was approximately double the number reporting core rough sleeping (i.e., streets, parks, car parks), but the average duration was around half that estimated for core rough sleeping from other sources and therefore the stock or point in time figure is similar to rough sleeping levels. 
  • Core Homeless statistics – table: (NB. Pt = public transport) 
  Rough Sleepers       Car, tent, p t      
  England Wales Scotland GB England Wales Scotland GB
2010 4,000 250 850 5100 4000 250 600 4850
2011 5,000 250 900 6150 5000 200 650 5850
2012 5,000 200 1000 6200 5000 200 700 5900
2013 6,000 250 1000 7250 6000 200 700 6900
2014 6,000 250 1000 7250 6000 250 700 6950
2015 8,000 300 850 9150 8000 250 600 8850
2016 9,000 300 950 10250 9000 300 650 9950
2017 11,000 350 950 12300 11000 300 650 11950
% change: 2012 to 2017 120% 75% -5% 98% 120% 50% -7% 103%
% change: 2016 to 2017 22% 17% 0% 20% 22% 0% 0% 20%




  1. Public opinion Poll/ YouGov data: A recent poll from YouGov for Crisis showed that:  
  • The majority (61%) of Brits feel angry, upset, or frustrated about the state of homelessness across the country
  • 69% of people feel powerless to help those who are homeless, despite their growing concerns around the country’s homelessness crisis.    
  • Nearly three quarters (74%) said they are generally worried about homelessness in Britain, with 59% saying they are more worried about the situation now than they were five years ago.    
  • And while most (57%) felt like they should help, almost seven in ten (68%) confessed they usually don’t know what to do when they see someone who is homeless.   
  • Nearly three quarters (74%) said they feel governments across the country could be doing more to end homelessness – something the charity campaigns for year round.  
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2031 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 15th November 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+) 


  1. About Crisis at Christmas: 

At Crisis we know it’s possible to end homelessness, so this year we launched a plan to end it for good. But while there are still people in our society without a home, we’ll open our Christmas centres to provide food, warmth, vital services and the first steps out of homelessness. Crisis at Christmas is just the beginning of helping people out of homelessness. It’s a huge volunteer effort, with 15 centres across Britain offering homeless people food, clothing, advice and support with health, housing, employment and benefits. For many, Crisis at Christmas offers a chance to relax, regain confidence and plan for the future in a supportive environment, away from the immediate hardships of homelessness.  

In 2017, 4,194 guests came to Crisis at Christmas in London, Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh and Newcastle combined  

But we don’t stop there. At our Christmas centres, we introduce people to our year-round training, education and support with housing, employment and health. This long-term support helps people to rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind for good.   


  1. About Crisis  


Crisis is the national charity for homeless people. We help people directly out of homelessness, and campaign for the social changes needed to solve it altogether. We know that together we can end homelessness.