Bold action needed to end rough sleeping

Hannah Gousy, Head of Policy and Campaigns

This week the Greater London Authority (GLA) published figures showing that over the course of 2017/18, 7,484 people slept rough on the capital’s streets. While this is a reduction of 8% from last year’s figures, it’s still a stark reminder of the homelessness crisis London faces.

These figures are far more reliable than those collated nationally by councils and published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This is because the GLA uses the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database, which records information from a range of services in London. National figures meanwhile are collected during a street count on a single given night each year.

CHAIN is undoubtedly the most robust and comprehensive way of measuring rough sleeping we have. In addition to the numbers, it provides outreach teams with important information regarding whether someone is new to the street, a returner or a long-term rough sleeper. Importantly, demographic information is also collected, which includes details about support needs, reasons for someone’s homelessness, if they have previously been placed in homelessness services and if they have prior rough sleeping experience.

That’s why it’s so vital that this information is used to inform the Government’s upcoming rough sleeping strategy, which will set out what’s needed to achieve its ambition of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it altogether by 2027. Alongside these stats, the Mayor set out his strategy to end rough sleeping which focuses on the kinds of solutions we know can work; such as Housing First. But like cities around the country, London will need support from Westminster to do this

What the CHAIN stats show us is that rough sleeping is the sharp end of the housing crisis, with thousands in London affected: 38% of people recorded sleeping rough in the capital last year reported their last settled base as a private tenancy. Clearly, the pressures exerted by a failing housing market are causing more and more people to end up on the streets. Across London, housing benefit no longer covers the cost of spiralling rents, while we are simply not building the affordable homes needed to ensure everyone has a safe and stable place to live. 

That’s why alongside personalised support for people with the most complex needs and emergency support to get people off the streets as quickly as possible, we need to address the wider structural drivers. Investment in an ambitious social house-building programme and housing benefit to ensure that it meets the cost of renting are an essential part of what is needed to end rough sleeping and, crucially, prevent it from ever occurring in the first place.

At Christmas, Crisis published a report undertaken by Cardiff University and Heriot-Watt University drawing on the best evidence from around the world on what works to end rough sleeping. This report clearly showed that alongside an assertive outreach model, we need a much sharper focus on housing-led solutions, including Housing First and Critical Time Interventions. Both these interventions are focused on supporting people into settled housing as quickly as possible. Our plan to end homelessness provides an action plan for Government on how this can be achieved.

Ending rough sleeping is a bold ambition – it needs a bold strategy to match it. It will not be enough to simply tinker round the edges.


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