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The number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in England on a given night in autumn has decreased for the fourth year in succession. This is good news. The 2021 rough sleeping snapshot show us that investment in people and services pays dividends. It also shows that our members have worked incredibly hard to use the funding available over recent years to help a significant number of people away from the streets.

The total number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on a typical night in autumn in 2021 was 2,440. This represents a 9% decrease on the 2020 total (2,690 individuals). Although, this is still 38% higher than in 2010.

This year’s figures also paint a contrasting picture across the different areas of the country. The chart below shows the proportion of all individuals estimated to be sleeping rough broken down by region. A full breakdown of the rough sleeping snapshot estimate figures, searchable by year, region and local authority, can be found here.

Source: Rough Sleeping Snapshot in England Autumn 2021 (DLUHC)

Counting the exact number of people who are rough sleeping in a local area is very difficult. People on the streets are not static. Many of them deliberately bed down in hidden locations, some people are moving between the streets and sofa surfing, poor weather can mean that people spend the night looking for places to stay warm and dry. The snapshot is not intended to capture every individual who is sleeping rough, by design it is an estimate. The value that it offers is a reliable, cumulative year-on-year picture of the numbers of people estimated to be sleeping rough.

And what this picture shows is how effective the hard work and money spent over the past four years has been. Following 8 consecutive years during which numbers of street homelessness rose, the tide turned in 2018. This coincided with the first year of the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI),  announced in the spring of 2018. Through RSI, local authorities have been able to apply for a series of twelve-month grants to fund work to reduce levels of rough sleeping in their area each year. Some areas employed outreach workers for the first time, others funded emergency accommodation to help people off the streets while they worked towards a sustainable long-term solution. As the snapshot estimate figures for 2018 and 2019 show, the RSI funding had begun to have a noticeable impact on levels of rough sleeping.

Then in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the government introduced the Everyone In initiative, which saw central and local government invest a significant amount of money to ensure everyone had safe and secure accommodation.

Homelessness organisations and front-line staff worked incredibly hard to ensure as many of those supported under Everyone In as possible were able to remain in emergency accommodation, and to look to support them into  secure, long-term accommodation. And what is clearly demonstrated by the snapshot estimate figures for 2020 and 2021 is that investing in solutions at this level works to reduce street homelessness because the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough fell significantly in 2020 and continued to fall in 2021.

Homeless Link CEO, Rick Henderson, observed when the latest figures were published:

“The ‘Everyone In’ scheme opened the door to many people who had been locked out previously. Building on this ethos through approaches like Housing First, where people are given their own home and intensive, unconditional support to maintain it, will be key to continuing the progress we have seen."

Indeed, as the Centre for Social Justice has shown, that for every £1 spent per person per year on intensive, wrap-around housing support through approached like Housing First, over £1.50 is saved per person per year down the line.

Despite the fall in rough sleeping numbers in 2021 there are challenges ahead. Pre-pandemic, a dearth of social housing, rising private rents and frozen welfare payments meant many low-income households were already struggling. At the same time, the Bank of England recently warned that household disposable incomes are likely to shrink by 2% this year, the biggest fall since records began in 1990. To compound this, a recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the number of low-income households in arrears has tripled since the start of the pandemic.

This is why the government announcement of a 3 year funding package for 2022 - 2025, rather than a continuation of the one-year RSI grants, is such welcome news. Our members, local authorities and rough sleeper teams can build more sustainably on the incredible work they’ve already done to significantly decrease the numbers of people sleeping rough. And we hope that the rough sleeping snapshot estimate figures over the coming years will continue to record a decrease in the numbers of people sleeping rough in England.

The Rough Sleeping Snapshot Estimates Toolkit provides more information on Homeless Link’s role in gathering the data for the annual rough sleeping snapshot estimate.