Figures reveal worrying increase in number of rough sleepers

The number of people sleeping rough in England has increased by 16 per cent in a year, according to government figures. The autumn 2016 figure was 4,134 rough sleepers, says the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), compared to 3,569 in autumn 2015. The numbers are based on a ‘single night snapshot’ of street counts and ‘intelligence-driven estimates’ from local agencies such as the police, outreach workers, the voluntary sector and others.

The figures have now increased for six years in a row, and of the 4,134 rough sleepers in 2016, 17 per cent were EU nationals from outside the UK, 12 per cent were women, 7 per cent were under 25, and 3 per cent were from outside the EU.

London saw a 3 per cent increase on the previous year – to just under 1,000 people – compared to a 21 per cent increase in the rest of England, with London’s percentage of the total number of rough sleepers falling from 26 per cent to 23 cent. The local authority area with the highest number of people sleeping rough was the London borough of Westminster, at 260, followed by Brighton and Hove, at 144.

The official statistics are seen by many as an underestimate, however. According to the most recent figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), which is managed by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, the total number of people seen sleeping rough in London by outreach workers during 2015-16 was more than 8,000 – an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. Of those who had undergone a support needs assessment, 43 per cent had alcohol support needs, 31 per cent drug support needs and 46 per cent mental health support needs, while 13 per cent had all three.

St Mungo’s chief executive Howard Sinclair said the figures were ‘nothing short of a scandal’, while Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said numbers were rising at an ‘appalling’ rate. ‘Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable

The number of rough sleepers in England has increased for the sixth year in a row.

to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on their mental and physical health,’ he said. ‘Our recent research has shown how rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence. This is no way for anyone to live. There is no time to waste. We need the government to take action on this issue, and we stand ready to work with officials to plan and deliver an ambitious new approach. It’s time we came together to put an end to this scandal – government, local authorities and charities.’

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