How are things going in the capital of rough sleeping?

Thursday, 31 July 2014 - 3:26pm

A newly published report from the London Assembly Housing Committee looks at the capital's response to rough sleeping. So how is the capital faring when it comes to helping individuals who find themselves sleeping out? 

Photograph: mostaque (Flickr)

Taking stock

In London, every agency working with rough sleepers uses a single database to record their work. This means that we have a pretty strong idea whether the problem is getting better or worse. 

According to the Street to Home report published this week, 2,497 slept rough in London between April and June 2014 - 23% up on same period in 2013.

Looking back to the whole of 2013/14, agencies found 6,508 individuals sleeping on the streets of London. In 2010/11, this figure stood at 3,975. Or in other words rough sleeping has increased by 61% in three years.

Although in the last year the rate of increase seems to have slowed, there is little doubt that the capital faces a major rough sleeping problem.

Who is sleeping rough?

The use of a single database - called CHAIN and managed by St.Mungo’s Broadway - also means we have a good idea of who is sleeping rough.

The profile of rough sleepers is diverse — 46% are UK nationals and 41% are from western, central or eastern European nations. Nearly nine in ten rough sleepers are male. Half are aged 26 – 45.

London has seen a steady increase in rough sleepers from abroad in recent years. A major factor in this has been the free movement of labour across Europe, leading to more people arriving in the country in search of work and often struggling to find or sustain it.  

It is important to note that among new rough sleepers, half of non-UK nationals had been in the UK for more than a year before they were seen rough sleeping. Only one in ten started sleeping rough within a week of arriving in the UK.

How long were they out?

According to data from 2013/14, the majority (70%) of people were seen sleeping rough just once. Only a very small minority (3%) lived on the streets throughout the year. 

A lot of this is down to No Second Night Out - an initiative supported by the Greater London Authority (GLA) which aims to find and help new rough sleepers quickly.

This is achieved through a combination of the public alerting services about rough sleepers via StreetLink, outreach teams working 24/7 across London and assessment centres where rough sleepers can receive rapid assessment of their needs and support to move off the street.

Last year NSNO worked with over 40% of the capitals new rough sleepers. Most individuals were helped after just one night of sleeping out and those who passed through the doors of NSNO were less likely to sleep rough again.

All in all, more people may be sleeping rough in the capital but they are more likely to get help more quickly than would have been the case a few years ago  

More to be done?

The report from the London Assembly Housing Committee cites a number of areas where we have also been calling for improvements.

Homeless Link agrees with the Committee that more can be done to join up health services with other services which support rough sleepers and single homeless people. We also support the recommendation on the need to maintain local welfare assistance and ensure Local Housing Allowance rates are regularly reviewed and properly take account of the higher rental costs in London. 

Read the full report to find out more. However, we believe the quickest gains can be made by focussing on preventing rough sleeping in the first place.

Advice, accommodation and more accommodation

According to CHAIN, over half of new rough sleepers were previously living in longer-term accommodation, with 41% coming from the private rented sector. Thirty percent left their last settled base due to being asked to leave or being evicted.

Many may have lost their home due to a breakdown in relationships with their partner, family or friend. While others may have lost their employment and been evicted. Either way, finding an affordable new place to stay in London is incredibly difficult.

It goes without saying that there needs to be more affordable accommodation in the capital. However, we also must to invest in the mediation and housing advice services which can help keep people in the homes they already have.

Voluntary sector advice services have been hit hard by funding cuts and the quality of homelessness advice and assistance offered by councils can be variable.

All the evidence shows that good prevention services benefit not only the individuals they help but are also more cost effective in the long-run.  

Post script - How does the capital compare?

The No Second Night Out principles have been adopted by councils throughout England thanks to Government funding.

Research we published last year looking at 20 areas outside of London showed that, like London, services are getting better at helping new rough sleepers. No Second Night Out across England found that over a six month period 67% of new rough sleepers were taken off the streets, and 78% of these did not return to the streets.

However, the profile of people rough sleeping outside London differs, with 75% being UK nationals and women more likely to be seen sleeping rough.

While areas outside of London might not experience quite the same acute unaffordability of accommodation, accessing what is there can still be problematic. And like London, as in any part of the country, we believe that better prevention is  the key to making a real difference in  tackling rough sleeping in the future. 

Rough sleeping in London: analysis of CHAIN data