14% rise in numbers sleeping rough

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Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Homelessness charities are “extremely concerned” about a marked rise in the number of people sleeping rough in England.

An annual snapshot of statistics, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), shows that 2,744 people were found to be sleeping rough on any one night in the country in autumn last year.

That is up 330 from 2,414 people in autumn 2013, an increase of 14% that continues a trend of rising numbers over the last five years.

London was found to have 742 people sleeping rough on any one night, accounting for around a quarter of the national figure. This was an increase of 37% on 2013, compared with a rise of 7% in the rest of England.

Charity St Mungo’s Broadway called for a strong response to the rise.

Chief executive Howard Sinclair said: “We are extremely concerned that yet again we are seeing a rise in the levels of rough sleeping. This is a problem that we cannot ignore and needs to be a top priority for the next government.”

The figures are based on counts and estimates by local authorities of the number of people sleeping rough on any one night, carried out in October and November last year.

The figures show an annual rise in estimates of people sleeping rough over the last five years, and a 55% increase on the 1,768 in 2010.

The North East has seen the biggest increase in rough sleeping since the previous year, of 40%, according to Homeless Link, the umbrella organisation for homelessness charities.

This is followed by London (37%), the North West (24%) and the South West (18%), all of which have seen rough sleeping increases above the national average.

Estimates for London by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) database, which has information about rough sleepers in London who have been contacted by outreach teams or who have accessed accommodation, suggest that 6,508 people were seen rough sleeping during 2013/14.

Of these, 46% were from the UK and 31% were from c entral and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 or 2007.

Mr Sinclair said: “As well as tackling the housing crisis overall, there is an urgent need to improve the help people receive from councils when looking for help with their homelessness.

“However, it’s important that we look below the surface of these snapshot figures.We know that the annual street counts can often be an estimate and fluctuate throughout the year, and with more workers out on the streets, more people are being found.

“The street counts provide a useful headline but more detailed analysis in London provided by Chain data shows that at least a proportion of the rise is driven by an increase in rough sleeping among non-UK nationals, in particular Eastern Europe.

“This trend, which has been apparent over the past decade, is particularly concerning as many of the traditional routes off the streets are not available to people who may have limited entitlement to welfare benefits. Further tightening of entitlement could exacerbate this.”

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, added: “We should ask ourselves why it is acceptable that anyone has to sleep rough in Britain today. What’s even more shocking is that the number of people in this situation has risen every year since 2010.

“Sleeping rough is dangerous and bad for your health. It is damaging to individuals and communities. The longer someone sleeps out, the worse their problems will become and the more costly to resolve once they get help.

“The hard work of many local services to help new rough sleepers as quickly as possible shows that we can turn this situation around. Unfortunately, many charities have seen funding fall at the very time that demand for help is on the rise.

“To turn the tide, politicians need to make sure the right support needs are available in every area so that no one has to live on our streets.”

In 2102 the Government called on every local authority to adopt the No Second Night Out standard by putting in place the right services to help new rough sleepers off the streets quickly.

This was backed by £20m in grants given out to local homelessness charities, funding which will come to and end next month.

According to Homeless Link, a review of 20 services found that 67% of rough sleepers worked with were taken off the streets after the first night that they were found, and the majority of these rough sleepers, 78%, did not return to the streets once they were helped.

The charity Crisis called for government policies to be reviewed, saying the rise was caused by cuts to benefits and welfare reforms, a housing shortage and homeless people not being considered a priority for help.

Chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “These figures show that the law is badly failing people facing homelessness. Welfare reform, benefit cuts and a chronic shortage of affordable homes mean more and more people are coming to their council as homeless.

“But as the law stands, far too often when single people ask for help, they are turned away to sleep on the street.

“Homelessness is a frightening and isolating experience – the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47. No one should be condemned to these dangers. That’s why we’re calling on political parties to commit to review how the law protects people from the devastation of life on the streets.”

Labour said the rise in figures were a “disgraceful” indictment of Conservative policies since Prime Minister David Cameron came to power.

Emma Reynolds, Labour’s shadow housing minister, said: ” Rising housing costs and low pay have made it more and more difficult for people to keep a roof over their head.

“The Tory-led Government has presided over the lowest levels of housebuilding in peacetime since the 1920s, a drop in the number of affordable homes being built and policies like the Bedroom Tax have made things even worse.”

Published: Thursday 26th February 2015 by The News Editor

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