2 March 2021

Campaigners are calling for the progress achieved in housing rough sleepers during the pandemic ‘to not be undone’ as figures in England fall by 37 per cent.

The figure, based on a count of rough sleepers by local authorities across a single night in Autumn calculated the figure had dropped from 4266 people in 2019 to 2688 rough sleepers in 2020.

This figure is down from 43 per cent from the peak of rough sleepers in 2017, but it is up by 920 people – 52 per cent since 2010 – when the count first began.

The count is taken from a single night in Autumn 2020, coinciding with the tier restrictions in October and the national lockdown throughout November, which will have affected the figures, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.

Since November 10,000 homeless people have been placed in emergency accommodation in response to the pandemic through the Everyone In scheme, and over 23,000 already have been moved into longer-term accommodation.

The Government came under fire over concerns there wasn’t enough support for homeless people during the third lockdown, and it introduced an extra £10m of funding in response.

The local authorities in England with the highest numbers of people sleeping rough were Westminster, Manchester and Bristol. The South East experienced the largest drop in rough sleepers. The North East of England bucked the trend, with a slight increase in rough sleepers across Autumn.

Homelessness across the country:

London: 1,136 to 714 (-37%)

South East: 900 to 474 (-47%)

North West: 349 to 226 (-35%)

West Midlands: 319 to 214 (-33%)

Yorkshire and the Humber: 242 to 81 (-25%)

North East: 62 to 72 (+7%)

MHCLG said other factors should also be considered when comparing the annual snapshots – the weather, movement across local authority boundaries, the date and time of the snapshot and availability of night shelters.

Housing charity Shelter said “a huge effort made to help people off the streets shows what can be done, but the war is not won”.

“No one should be sleeping rough during the pandemic, and we’re still a long way from zero,” Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said. “Emergency accommodation needs to be there for everyone at risk of the street, yet we know it’s not.

“Every week our frontline services pick up new cases of homeless people who are [unable to find help]. Just one of the cases we’ve dealt with involved a frightened young man who was turned away no less than four times by the council in the dead of winter, because they said he wasn’t in ‘priority need’.  

“Whether someone is offered a safe bed for the night instead of a cold pavement, should not be up for debate. The pandemic isn’t over, and we must continue to keep people safe. The Government needs to ensure its hard work is not undone by giving councils explicit guidance to provide everyone with emergency accommodation and support.” 

Pat Mernagh, a community assistant at homelessness charity Emmaus, welcomed the figures, but he told i more support is needed.

Mr Mernagh has lived experienced as a rough sleeper. He was in hospital for two years suffering with TB and was later evicted from his housing association flat, leaving him with no money and nowhere to live.

“I worry that when the pandemic is over, people will have nowhere to stay. It’s all well and good putting people in emergency accommodation now, but we need it longer term.

“There are some roadblocks in delivering our service to those who need it. The restaurants who provide a lot of our food have been affected to the point they can’t help out, and we’ve been questioned by police over whether our work with rough sleepers is urgent.

“We need a more joined up approach across the board. In Brighton, the homeless charities haven’t all met up more than once in 15 years.”

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs for Centrepoint, said: “The gap between the shocking number of people who needed help during the pandemic and this snapshot survey highlights again the systemic inability to count the number of people who are facing homelessness and rough sleeping.

“Without understanding and acknowledging the true scale of the problem, it’s almost impossible for councils to secure the resources desperately needed to fully tackle the problem.”

Housing Secretary, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:  “Today’s figures demonstrate that by working hand in hand with councils, charities and faith groups, the Government has made huge progress towards ending rough sleeping and responded to the danger posed by the pandemic in an internationally recognised way.

“At the beginning of the pandemic we took swift and decisive action from the very start to bring rough sleepers in from the streets and settled them into longer- term accommodation in record numbers through our transformational Everyone In initiative. That work continues, the results are clear and a huge credit to all involved.

“Ending rough sleeping is a personal mission for the Prime Minister and me – and we have made huge progress since he came into No.10 reducing rough sleeping by 43%.There is more to do, but I am determined to continue to drive progress forward backed by £750 million in funding.”  

Source: iNews