Nowhere safe to stay: Homeless people “told to sleep rough” despite extreme dangers

19 October 2016

New research out today from homelessness charity St Mungo’s has revealed that 129 rough sleepers died in London since 2010 – an average of one rough sleeper dying every fortnight – while some people, shockingly, were told by councils to sleep rough to access support.

The charity’s report, Nowhere safe to stay: the dangers of sleeping rough, sheds light on the dangers of sleeping on the streets for those who experience it on a daily basis, including violence, assault, suicide and abuse.

It also highlights how people who turn to councils for help are often being sent away without support or even instructed to sleep rough in order to access services.

The report highlights how a gap in the law means that the statutory protections afforded to families with children and very vulnerable adults miss out people who are left to face extreme risk on the streets.

Although no official national data exists, new analysis for this report from a search of press stories found 97 cases of people who died while sleeping rough in England in the past five years – with one in four experiencing a violent death.

The research also highlights that people sleeping rough are at a high risk of being attacked. A quarter (ten in 40) of the St Mungo’s clients interviewed for the report had been the victim of physical assaults while sleeping rough.

One interviewee said: “I’ve been beaten up quite a few times sleeping in doorways, or even in cars, they smash the window in on top of you, spit on you, urinate on you, try and set you on fire.  I’ve had all of those things happen to me.”   

Three quarters (33 in 40) had slept rough the night after asking the council for help because they were homeless.

Another client who took part in the research said: “We decided to go to the local council and they told us that we had to sleep rough for three nights in a row before they could actually do anything to help us. We just felt complete despair.”   

In 2015-16, half of 672 UK nationals who used the London No Second Night Out service for new rough sleepers had asked councils for help in the 12 months before they started sleeping rough.

The number of people sleeping rough in England has doubled over the last five years from 1,768 in 2010 to 3,569 in 2015. Last year alone rough sleeping increased by 30%. In London 8,096 were recorded as sleeping rough during 2015-16 on the CHAIN database. 

St Mungo’s is taking part in a mass lobby today (19 October) in support of the Homelessness Reduction Bill which would require councils to do more to prevent and relieve homelessness.

The charity is also calling on the government to urgently bring forward a new strategy to end rough sleeping and ensure that nobody is turned away by their council when they have nowhere safe to stay, no matter where they are in the country.

Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s CEO, said: “It’s impossible not to be shocked by what our report has revealed. Too many people are dying on our streets and too many are living with damaging long term consequences of not having a roof.
“St Mungo’s believes that the system for assisting people who are at risk of sleeping rough in England requires fundamental reform. The funding package announced by the Prime Minister this week is a promising start. We hope it is the first step to a new and coherent national strategy to end rough sleeping.
“Parliament also has a once in a generation opportunity to improve the current homelessness law. I urge MPs to turn up to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October and help persuade the government to back the bill and fully fund the implementation of this new legislation.
“Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010 and continues to rise. Unless further action is taken, more people will experience the dangers of rough sleeping without the support they desperately need.”

St Mungo's is supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is due for its second reading in the House of Commons on Fri 28 October. We are urging all MPs to attend and vote in favour of this piece of proposed legislation, and we are asking our supporters to do the same. Find out more.


Press contact for interviews:

Gemma Hollingshead, Press & PR Manager / 07979 018 734

Charlotte Dykes, Press & PR Officer / 07739 195 351

About the research

St Mungo’s interviewed 40 St Mungo’s clients for this report. They were interviewed in August 2016, when they were residents in St Mungo’s supported accommodation projects in London and the South West of England.

All of the clients interviewed had previously slept rough after approaching a council housing service (referred to in the report as ‘housing options’) for help. At the time of taking part in the interviews all of the clients we interviewed had moved into St Mungo’s accommodation services, where they were being supported to resolve housing and other problems.

Demographic information was captured for almost all of the interviewees (36 out of 40). Their average age was 41; two thirds were male and one third female; 75 per cent were UK nationals with the others each having a different nationality.

For this report St Mungo’s also commissioned Kantar Media to find press reports on people who died while sleeping rough between August 2011 and August 2016. Their search produced reports on 97 different rough sleepers who had died during this period, which were analysed by Kantar and St Mungo’s in order to learn more about these deaths. We know that many more people have died while sleeping rough during this period.

Analysis of CHAIN data on rough sleeping in London is also included[1], as is analysis of data from the St Mungo’s Client Needs Survey of 1,036 clients who have previously slept rough.

St Mungo’s also spoke to managers of housing options teams in eight different councils across England.

About the Homelessness Reduction Bill

The proposed amendments to current homelessness legislation are being introduced as a private members bill by Conservative MP Bob Blackman following recommendations from an expert panel earlier this year. Mr Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill would strengthen duties on councils to help prevent and relieve homelessness for everyone who asks for help, regardless of whether they meet ‘priority need’ criteria for housing.

The bill also has support from the cross party Communities and Local Government Committee of MPs who backed the bill in their extensive report on homelessness.  

[1] The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) is a multi-agency database recording information about rough sleepers in London. The system is commissioned and funded by the Mayor of London and managed by St Mungo's – see

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