Rory Weal, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, looks at why more people are returning to rough sleeping and why the Government needs to act now to halt a worrying trend
For those of us passionate about ending homelessness there was, for once, some welcome news last week. New figures from the latest annual CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) report (PDF) showed that there has been an 8% decrease in the number of people sleeping rough in London.
The 7,484 people who were seen rough sleeping in 2017/18 is the lowest total since 2013/14, although it is still over twice the number seen ten years ago.
London seems to be bucking the national trend, suggesting services are working better together to prevent people sleeping rough in the first place, as well as helping them off the streets quickly if they end up there.
Rising numbers returning to rough sleeping
However, we should be under no illusion that the annual CHAIN statistics paint a rosy picture. Among the positives, the figures also give serious causes for concern – not least on the rising number of people returning to rough sleeping after a period off the streets.
In 2017/18, 1,119 people seen rough sleeping during the year were returners, representing a rise of 8% on the previous year and 27% since 2014/15. While overall numbers have gone down, the total number of returners continues to rise. In addition to the number of people sleeping rough, the CHAIN database also records the outcomes for people seen sleeping rough in London. These figures suggest the root of the problem is an increasing reliance on short term accommodation, with people who have experienced rough sleeping finding longer term sustainable housing harder and harder to access.
Of those who had been sleeping rough and were booked into accommodation last year, 78% moved into short-term accommodation (such as hostels). Just 22% found mid-long term housing (such as the private rented sector or long term supported housing), a fall from the previous year.
At the same time, the proportion of people leaving short-term accommodation to take up a place in longer term housing has halved in three years, from 40% in 2014/15 to 21% in 2017/18. Many of those who fail to find a home are moving back onto the streets, with ‘negative’ reasons for departure from hostels and other short-term options also rising in recent years.
Why do people return to rough sleeping?
To shed more light on the reasons people return to rough sleeping after time off the streets, St Mungo’s has published a new report, On my own two feet. The research, carried out by peer researchers with experience of homelessness and rough sleeping, uncovered many reasons people end up being pushed and pulled back to life on the streets.
The research revealed multiple barriers to accessing long-term housing for people with experience of rough sleeping, including the reluctance of landlords to let to people receiving benefits, a lack of truly affordable rents, money for a deposit or support for individuals to manage their tenancies.
The keys to ending rough sleeping for good
How can we make things better? At St Mungo’s we believe the Government should use its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to increase long term accommodation options for people with a history of sleeping rough and guarantee funding for accompanying support.
One model which should be expanded is the Clearing House in London, which offers ring-fenced social housing for people with a history of rough sleeping and ongoing support to help them cope with living independently and move towards employment. Another good model is Housing First, which provides stable tenancies and intensive support for people who have complex needs.
We know that getting people into suitable, long term housing with appropriate support is key to ending rough sleeping for good. We now need action to achieve this. We cannot allow the rise in returners to become the start of a worrying new trend.