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How far are we from ending rough sleeping in London?

“By the end of 2012 no one will live on the streets of London, and no individual arriving on the streets will sleep out for a second night” was the commitment made by the current Mayor of London in 2008. Unfortunately, the latest CHAIN data show that rough sleeping numbers are rising and at an even faster rate.

Seasonally adjusted data from the CHAIN database illustrate the constant increase in the number of people sleeping rough in London since 2005. These numbers also show the incredible value of CHAIN as a data source, and a model for the rest of the UK in working with people sleeping rough. With CHAIN data we can see seasonal changes, as they are collected throughout the year. They also reveal underlying changes in trends and incidences of repeat rough sleeping.

RoughSleepersLarge_whitespace

The graph below shows that despite some success in preventing repeat rough sleeping, we are not ending it. In fact, since 2011 we have seen an increase of, on average, 44 rough sleepers per quarter. This is compared with an increase of 21 per quarter between 2005 and 2011.

What does this increased trend mean?

An increase of 44 people per quarter represents a 176 person increase over a year and an 880 person increase after 5 years. More fundamentally, the trend shows that we are heading in the wrong direction and getting further from ending rough sleeping in London.

Why the dramatic jump in rough sleeping numbers at the start of 2011?

While it is not the key story, it is worthwhile mentioning the considerable jump in the number of people sleeping rough between the January to March 2011 and the April to June 2011 quarters. If nothing else it is the first thing our eyes are drawn to. Dramatic changes in trends are sometimes explained by a change to the methodology. However, there was no such change here.

So, why the jump? Well, the simple answer is that we can’t point to a single reason for the increase. The Homelessness Monitor highlights our best guess – the increase was caused both by:

  • a ‘real’ increase in rough sleeping, and
  • improved counting of people sleeping rough prompted by the launch of the No Second Night Out project

While the jump is noticeable and interesting, the trend of increasing rough sleeping is much more concerning.

Why is rough sleeping increasing?

One factor contributing to this is a rise in Central and Eastern European (CEE) nationals sleeping rough (30% since Jan-March 2014). CEE nationals tend to successfully find employment and housing, so what these data highlight is a lack of appropriate services for non-UK nationals. This is not the only story though. The fact that more than 40 per cent of rough sleepers are UK nationals clearly highlights the holes in the welfare safety net. The number of UK nationals sleeping rough has risen 6 per cent since Jan-March 2014 (921 to 979 people).

What is still to be done to end rough sleeping?

We need to address the factors that are causing rough sleeping to ensure that it is prevented. The Homelessness Monitor suggests that the chronic shortage of housing in London combined with the impacts of welfare reform is undermining efforts to end rough sleeping. London is doing a great deal to end homelessness, but it is not enough. In all, 7581 people slept rough in 2014-15, an increase of 17 per cent on last year. The London Mayoral Election in 2016 and the preceding campaigns are a chance to restate the goal of ending rough sleeping and propose solutions to this crisis.