More than 9,000 people to spend Christmas sleeping in cars, trains, buses and tents, Crisis warns


  • New analysis shows number of ‘hidden rough sleepers’ to soar by up to 50% in the next decade 
  • Crisis urges public to support its winter appeal to help those already sleeping in the cold as Christmas centres open to 4,500 homeless guests 
  • Ground-breaking new report shows best evidence here and around the world on ending rough sleeping once and for all  

More than 9,000 people in Britain are being forced to sleep in tents, cars, trains and buses across the country, and this is forecast to increase to 13,400 (47%) over 10 years if nothing is done to tackle the situation, according to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people. This is on top of the thousands of people already sleeping rough on the streets.  

 The charity is now urging governments in Westminster, Scotland and Wales to take immediate action to solve the disaster while calling on the public to support its Christmas appeal as it opens its Christmas centres today. 

The research for Crisis, undertaken by Heriot-Watt University,1 highlights how those experiencing some of the most dangerous forms of homelessness are often forced to hide, leaving them invisible to outreach workers and trapped in a cycle of despair and isolation.2  

One man tells Crisis how he slept on trains for five years, feeling ashamed and hidden from help while another says he was forced to sleep on buses after being kicked and harassed on the street. One man describes how he was picked up while inside his tent and thrown over a subway [see box out below].  

Worryingly, those sleeping without a roof over their head are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse compared to the general public, according to previous Crisis research.3 

The charity which marks its 50th anniversary this month, is urging the public to support its Christmas campaign as it opens its doors to an expected 4,500 homeless guests in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Newcastle and Coventry, over the festive period.  

Run by an army of more than 11,000 volunteers, the centres provide warmth, companionship and three hot meals a day. Guests receive healthcare and specialist advice on housing, work and benefits and an introduction to the life-changing opportunities on offer at Crisis centres across the country during the year ahead. 

Meanwhile, the charity has published an evidence review undertaken by Cardiff University and Heriot-Watt University for the first time revealing the best evidence from here and around the world on what works to end rough sleeping.  

The review finds the best way to end rough sleeping is by:  

  • Widely adopting a housing-led approach including the use of Housing First, a programme which gives the most vulnerable rough sleepers their own home and specialist support  
  • Taking swift action to quickly end street homelessness through interventions such as No Second Night Out. This programme helps get people off the street and into accommodation and reduces the number of rough sleepers who develop further support needs  
  • Taking a ‘person-centred’ approach by tailoring support to take individuals’ needs into account, such as using personalised budgets to commission services  
  • Ensuring interventions take account of local housing markets and individuals needs  

Any strategy to address rough sleeping must address these principles and sit alongside good quality short term emergency accommodation and prevention services, the charity says.   

Chief Executive of Crisis Jon Sparkes said:  

“Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time for homeless people. While others are enjoying the company of family and friends, homeless people face a daily struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold. For those living in tents and on public transport this battle can last even longer, because they often end up forgotten, hidden from help and trapped in horrifying situations. 

“That’s why every year, as well as our regular year-round services, we are here to make sure thousands of vulnerable people have somewhere safe to spend Christmas – and to offer them the first steps out of homelessness for good. This is thanks in large part to the generosity of our supporters and volunteers, and we need the public’s help to make it happen again this Christmas. 

“But as we turn 50, we are clear that we don’t want to be needed at all in the future. The evidence we are publishing today shows how it is possible to end rough sleeping for good – we’re now calling on our governments to act on this, and make sure no one needs to end up in such dangerous situations in future.” 

In the short-term, the public can donate £26.08 to reserve a place for a homeless person at one of Crisis’ centres this Christmas.   

Case studies: 

The charity spoke to people living in tents, cars, trains and buses who told of their experiences which often left them exposed to extreme weather and violence. They reported abuse and harassment, forcing many to hide themselves, leading to loneliness, isolation and without access to help: 


Benji was forced to hide on buses after being kicked and harassed on the streets.   

  • “I sleep in the buses, mainly because I can’t see sleeping in the street as…safe, it’s not safe because I have been harassed, I have been kicked. It’s really not a life. It’s like dying every day. It’s no life at all. It’s like hell really, hell... because [you spend] most of the time alone really. I don’t really have much friends. Most of the time is alone.”  


Paul experienced extreme abuse while living in a tent during the coldest months of the year. 

  • “I’ve been chucked over subways in tent in [name of town], picked it up and chucked over a subway,” he said. “It was at Christmas time and everyone was going out getting drunk. You get more trouble at Christmas, I believe, than any other time. It’s supposed to be a happy time.”  


Corky felt so ashamed of being homeless he hid himself in denial and ended up living on trains for five years without any offers of help. 

“My family thought I was staying with friends, and because I was dressed in a suit, they thought nothing of it,” he said. “I was in denial and I was ashamed - when you spend enough time on your own you become insular. One minute you're in normal society going to work and seeing friends and family regularly, and then you're on the trains and you're on your own, hidden from outreach services.” 


Paula lived in a car for three months and was so affected by her situation she collapsed and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance due to stress. 

  • I felt vulnerable living in the car – I had put makeshift curtains up to give myself privacy but I didn’t know who was outside. It was very undignified – trying to find toilet facilities and going to friends to use their shower and having to use bare essentials. One day I felt so bad I collapsed and was blue-lighted to hospital – my blood pressure was off the Richter scale.  


Ali ended up sleeping in a car during the coldest months of the year after experiences of sleeping in recycling bins and in public toilets. 

  • “I was sleeping on the streets, underneath stairs, in recycle bins, in public toilets. I managed to borrow another friend's car and slept in that for a long time through the winter. That was the hardest. I just couldn’t tolerate the cold outside.” 


Notes to editors: 

1. The analysis of numbers of people living in cars, tents and public transport is based on research undertaken by Heriot-Watt on current and projected levels of core homelessness in Great Britain (full report available on the Crisis website: See appendix 1 for full breakdown 

  • Forecasts are based on the current policies in each nation and assume neutral/benign economic and labour forecasting based on little change from the current picture. It forecasts key variables based on past data –including household formation/composition and other demographics, house prices and rents, new build, tenure, earnings, incomes, unemployment, poverty and affordability. 
  • The model calculated low, mid and high range estimates, the mid-range figures have been used. There are significant uncertainties about the coverage of some of the data sources and some of the assumptions used in making the estimates, and in some cases we have several different sources which may give somewhat differing numbers. The researchers applied judgement in interpreting this data and have mainly focused on the estimates which lie in the middle of the range.  
  • Figures have been rounded to the nearest hundred and are based on estimated levels of rough sleeping in Great Britain (calculated using Supporting People data, Multiple Exclusion Homelessness research, Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey, Scottish Household Survey and the British Cohort Survey). Estimates for cars, tents and public transport draw on a study by Anna Clarke (2015) in estimating the incidence of these different forms of ad hoc accommodation relative to the scale of core rough sleeping.: A. Clarke (2016) ‘The Prevalence of Rough Sleeping and Sofa Surfing Amongst Young People in the UK’, Cogitatio – Social Inclusion (ISSN:2183-2803), 4:4, 60-72.   

2. Crisis report I Was All On My Own shows how six out of ten homeless people suffer from loneliness, making them some of the most isolated people in our society. One in three has no contact with family, while less than one in four can call on a friend in an emergency. 

3. This is according to Crisis report It’s No Life At All 

4. The international evidence review of what works to address rough sleeping has been undertaken by Cardiff University and Heriot-Watt University. The report is based on a review of 533 published papers and eleven expert interviews. The report is available to download on Crisis’ website

The review finds the best way to end homelessness is by: 

  • Dropping bureaucracy around who is eligible for which support. For example, ending rough sleepers having to prove they have a local connection to an area to get help 
  • Taking swift action to quickly end street homelessness. This will reduce the number of rough sleepers who develop complex needs 
  • Widely adopting a Housing First approach, a programme which gives the most vulnerable rough sleepers their own home and specialist support.  
  • Developing a tailored approach to individuals, for example granting them personalised budgets 


Appendix 1  

 Cars, tents and public transport  








Great Britain  









The research includes forecasts for five-year periods over the next 25 years, showing it is likely that by 2041 around 22,000 people will be living in tents and on public transport.  

About Crisis 

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