2 November 2020

Two thousand people slept rough for the first time in London this summer, new figures reveal, as homelessness charities warn the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic could see more left without a roof over their heads.

They were among 3,444 rough sleepers in the capital between July and September.

At the start of the crisis, the government asked local authorities to house all rough sleepers and those in hostels and night shelters by early April as part of the Everyone In campaign.

The drive to get people off the streets at the start of the coronavirus pandemic did see reduced levels of rough sleeping continuing even after lockdown was eased over the summer months, data published by the Greater London Authority on Friday showed.

And there was a 19% fall in street homelessness to 3,444 on average over July and September compared to the previous three months when it sat at 4,227.

But the number of people living permanently on the streets rose, and 55% of all rough sleepers during the period – about 2,000 – were doing so for the first time.

The fact remains that 3,444 is a huge number of people to be sleeping on the streets of our capital at any time, let alone during a pandemic.Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis

The figure of 3,444, collated by multi-agency database the Combined Homelessness And Information Network (Chain), is a drop of 14% compared to the same period last year.

Westminster recorded the highest number of newly homeless people on its streets at 434.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said: “These figures show that the initial influx of people forced onto the streets at the start of the pandemic has not escalated at the pace we feared.

“However, the fact remains that 3,444 is a huge number of people to be sleeping on the streets of our capital at any time, let alone during a pandemic.

“That almost 2,000 of them are sleeping rough for the first time is alarming, with the risk of infection adding to the other dangers associated with not having somewhere safe to call home.”

He added: “As winter approaches, and with the second wave of the pandemic affecting much of the country, we could see many more people losing their homes as businesses and livelihoods are impacted. 

Mickey, 24, spent just over five weeks sleeping rough in London during a two-month period of homelessness after moving to the capital from Scarborough. 

As a musician, all his work evaporated at the start of the pandemic, and by July he had moved to London. He said: “By then things had quietened down a bit, I don’t think people were as frightened as they were in March – but London was still a really strange place to be. 

“There was still an absolute heap of people on the streets, and for most of them it was business as usual. The rest of the city was really quite quiet. 

“I feel like Everyone In was a bit of a fallacy. Obviously the government did put people in hotels but I don’t think it was something that was readily available for everybody.

“If I had been in London at the start of the pandemic perhaps it would have been a bit easier to find somewhere, but by July that wasn’t really happening.” 

Mickey now has somewhere safely off the streets, but he described the collision of cold winter weather and Covid as “a perfect storm”. 

He said: “You see so many people that are out there and it’s really difficult to watch. Personally I was very driven and I don’t drink or take drugs, but a lot of these people do.

“I’m not judging them for that, but it’s really worrying to see because I don’t think they believe anything can change and they’re carrying so much trauma that they don’t believe anyone cares. 

“It’s so much deeper than just putting someone in a property. It’s about all these emotional belief systems that people are carrying. Add winter and Covid into that and it’s a really hard situation.” 

Phil Kerry, chief executive of New Horizon – which helped Mickey find a way off the streets – and chair of the Young People Sleeping Rough sub-group of Sadiq Khan’s Life Off The Streets taskforce, explained that the stereotypes attached to rough sleeping meant many young homeless people may have been missed. 

He said: “Young people tell us that they tend to rough sleep in more hidden ways because they don’t want the stigma and they don’t feel safe, so they tend to shelter in doorways or stairwells in blocks of flats.

“They’re more likely to pick a hidden spot, even behind bushes in a park for example, to make themselves as invisible as possible. Because they’re not as visible they don’t get picked up by outreach services, which are typically adult-focused, and they get missed from the statistics. 

“You then end up with this perpetual cycle of underinvestment in supporting them.” 

Kerry also explained that lockdowns, particularly as they drag into the winter, could worsen street homelessness. Under tier 2 restrictions in London sofa-surfing has essentially been made illegal – cutting off many young hidden homeless people from their usual method of finding shelter and safety. 

Responding to the findings Paul Brocklehurst, Centrepoint’s helpline manager, said: “London is increasingly ill-equipped to deal with the scale of young people we are seeing forced to sleep rough. Now, with local lockdowns looming, time is running out to ensure adequate, age appropriate provision is in place.

“The mayor needs to refocus his efforts and the resources he has at his disposal to address this rise in young people rough sleeping. Working with the boroughs, we need to see more services which recognise that young people coming off the streets need stability and tailored support but, in mixing them into services with older rough sleepers, there’s a real danger they’ll be exposed to further harm.

“The mayor and central government recognise that rough sleepers need more emergency accommodation but things have changed since lockdown began and, now that we’re seeing these almost unprecedented numbers of young people rough sleeping, it’s time funding allocations recognised that.”

Source: Huffington Post