Leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s has cautioned of worrying warning signs as the latest annual statistics for street homelessness in London are released.
The new figures released today (30 June) are produced by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) which is commissioned by the Mayor of London and managed by St Mungo’s.
Covering from April 2020 to the end of March 2021, and encompassing the period Covid-19 was sweeping the country, the annual statistics show that the number of people seen sleeping rough in the capital increased from the previous year, despite the efforts to accommodate people during the pandemic.
The overall number of people who were recorded as sleeping rough at least once rose by 3%, up from 10,726 in 2019-20 to 11,018 in 2020-21. This is more than two and a half times the number seen in 2010-11.
Of the total number, 7,531 people were recorded as sleeping rough for the first time, up 7% on the previous year.
Some elements of the data do clearly show the impact of the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative, launched on 26 March 2020, which saw local authorities instructed to accommodate people who were sleeping rough in order to protect them from coronavirus. As this data started from 1 April 2020, it does not include the significant number of people who were accommodated in the first five day days following the Government’s instruction.
For the time frame covered, the figures show that 56% of people seen rough sleeping were helped in to accommodation during the year including 3,365 into the Emergency Covid-19 hotels.
The data also shows:
75% of people seen rough sleeping for the first time reported they had come to the streets from some form of long-term accommodation
The most frequently reported support need amongst people sleeping rough was mental health at 44%
10% of people seen sleeping rough were under 25 and seven people aged under 18 were recorded – which is up from just one person the year before
Of the 10 boroughs with the highest number of people seen sleeping rough, Westminster, Camden, Newham, and Tower Hamlets have shown a decrease in numbers on the previous year.
But as numbers reduced in some of the inner London boroughs, increases were recorded in some outer boroughs including Waltham Forest, Barnet and Enfield which all saw significant rise on the previous year.
St Mungo’s Chief Executive Steve Douglas CBE said: “This data covers what was an extraordinary year and we have to take that into account when we interpret it.
“One thing that is striking is the effect of ‘Everyone In’ and the considerable effort that was made to ensure that people experiencing street homelessness were located and accommodated during the pandemic across central and local government, by charities, service providers and by health professionals.
“We should particularly thank and pay tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly to help people during these very difficult times, work that continues every day to ensure people who need it most are supported off the streets.
“What we find worrying is the fact that, despite this unprecedented work, the overall figure of people seen rough sleeping, and the number of people who were seen for the first time, have both increased.
“Also that, when you look at where people had been living immediately before arriving onto the streets, the data shows how many were on a knife edge and were tipped into sleeping rough by the pandemic.
“We know from what our outreach teams are experiencing at the moment that, as the pandemic and its effects continue, this remains the case.”
Mr Douglas explained that it is difficult to say conclusively if the rise in the total number of people sleeping rough recorded in these statistics was because more effort was put into locating and supporting people off the streets because of the pandemic, or if more people were coming to the streets in the first place.
He continued: “Whatever the reason, we do know there were more people seen on London’s streets than there were before. As pandemic restrictions begin to lift we must ensure that a return to normal does not mean a return to rising homelessness, or that a tapering off of support measures results in an increased flow of people ending up on the streets.
“The public health emergency is not over and we know that those experiencing street homelessness are disproportionately at risk. That is why the work of the independent Kerslake Commission is vitally important, so that across the homelessness and health sectors, and in Government we can properly capture and evaluate what worked and use it to inform how we work together going forward.
“We must do this both thoroughly and quickly, to ensure that the Government manifesto promise, and our aim – to end rough sleeping for good – can be achieved.”