More than 24,000 people in Britain will spend Christmas sleeping on pavements, in tents or on public transport – far more than there were five years ago, according to new research.
The analysis of the data, commissioned by UK homelessness charity Crisis and undertaken by Heriot-Watt University shows that 12,300 people are currently sleeping rough on the street and nearly 12,000 are spending their nights in cars, trains, buses or tents.
The charity is urging governments across the country to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping, including by strengthening the welfare system and making sure that every homeless person has access to mainstream housing as quickly as possible.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but. While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold.
“This situation simply cannot continue. While the Scottish government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, full implementation cannot come soon enough. Meanwhile, the governments in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to end this crisis.
“We know homelessness can be ended. Earlier this year we set out the exact government policies that would end homelessness across Britain. Our research shows that, with these policies in place, homelessness could be ended in just ten years.”
The figure is more than double what government statistics suggest, however the official data has recently come under criticism for being “inherently unreliable” because each local authority estimates the figures based on a physical count on just one night of the year.
A HuffPost UK investigation last month revealed 33 of England’s local authorities recorded zero rough sleepers last year – including the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, where street sleepers are visible throughout the year. This is because council officers recorded no rough sleepers on the one night they collected the data between October 1 and November 30 last year.
Following the investigation, the leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Darren Rodwell, called for reforms, saying the anomaly showed the inherent inaccuracy in the data.
“Obviously we know as a local authority that our numbers are not at zero,” he told HuffPost UK. “So it shows the flaw in the system because we are aware that we’ve had a number of rough sleepers in the borough.”
Crisis and Heriot-Watt’s research completes the picture by collating the government figures with other crucial sources of data. These include academic studies, statutory statistics, and data from other support services that record people’s experiences of sleeping rough which aren’t captured in the government’s count.
Shockingly, between 2012 and 2017, the numbers have soared by 120% in England and 63% in Wales. Numbers in Scotland fell by 6% over the same period.
Those sleeping rough are almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused compared to the general public. The extreme temperatures also present a potentially deadly risk those sleeping on the streets, according to previous Crisis research.
Alex, who is in his 30s, was homeless for six months last year after his 15-year marriage broke down. One of the biggest concerns he had while sleeping rough was being attacked.
He said: “When my marriage ended, I didn’t want a toxic atmosphere for my kids. I sofa-surfed with a friend for a bit, and then ended up living in a tent in a park in Croydon. I used to think: ‘If someone sees me, maybe they’ll nick whatever I have or attack me.’ That was my fear, that I wouldn’t make it through the night.
“To get through it, I used to tell myself it was just an extended camping trip – I made a big effort to look the same as I always did and started each morning with a trip to Crisis’ centre to shower and started doing classes with them.”
With support from Crisis, he now lives in a Housing Association flat and has received ongoing support to help him get back into work.
“There’s this stigma that people who are homeless have given up, but that’s not true, I’m not going to just put my feet up. I want to get back to work, ideally in filming, that’s the next step for me,” he said.
A recent poll from YouGov for Crisis showed that the majority (61%) of Brits feel angry, upset, or frustrated about the state of homelessness across the country and nearly three quarters (74%) said they are generally worried about homelessness in Britain, with 59% saying they are more worried about the situation now than they were five years ago.
Nearly three quarters (74%) also said they feel governments across the country could be doing more to end homelessness.