The roots of contemporary homelessness

By the 1980s around 20,000 people were living in accommodation for homeless single people in London (now provided by charities and housing associations rather than the state). Yet numbers sleeping on the streets had risen to more than 1,000.

Reasons for this increase included new legislation stopping 16 and 17 year-olds from claiming housing benefits. With no way of paying the rent if they ran away from home, they went on the street. In addition, many of the old, crowded impersonal dormitories for homeless people were closed and replaced with hostels with single rooms. While this meant that housing standards rose, the number of available beds fell. And a general increase in the number of people with drink, drug and mental health problems exacerbated the problem. Vagrancy - or to give it its modern term, rough sleeping - was on the increase again.

The government took action: though it no longer ran hostels, it set up programmes like the Rough Sleepers Initiative and the Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative to fund extra hostels and other services. The number on the street in London fell from over 1,000 to around 600. In 1998, the government set up the Rough Sleepers Unit to co-ordinate its approach with the efforts of the homelessness charities, and the numbers on the street continue to fall.