The Salvation Army has warned that new figures showing a drop in rough sleepers in London could be covering up a surge in hidden homelessness.
The data, collated by multi-agency database the Combined Homelessness And Information Network (Chain), shows that 3,307 rough sleepers were recorded in Greater London between October and December 2020. This is a nine per cent drop on the same quarter last year. However, The Salvation Army has pointed out that 48 per cent were new rough sleepers.
The church and charity has attributed the decrease to the continuing efforts of services and local authorities to find self-contained accommodation for people as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative and Protect Programme, but said it’s failing to reach those newly on the streets.
Lorrita Johnson, The Salvation Army's director of homelessness services, said: “While it is good news that the figures show fewer people are forced to sleep rough, the number of first-time rough sleepers is deeply concerning.
“New rough sleepers are coming onto the streets all the time and include those whose livelihoods disappeared overnight or when their temporary arrangements like ‘sofa surfing’, became impossible due to social distancing.
“The Salvation Army is very concerned that the short-term gains from giving people a place to stay under ‘Everyone In’ will be squandered because a long-term, sustainable approach to funding homelessness support remains sorely lacking. That funding can help a person tackle the reasons why they were forced to sleep rough in the first place which can be anything from poor mental health, to fleeing domestic abuse, to trauma or an addiction.”
She added that although providing housing is important, vulnerable people will end up back on the streets without long-term funded support.
The London Chain figures are the only quarterly produced data in England which measures rough sleeping. But The Salvation Army has called for such data to be recorded across the country.
“Without accurately knowing how many people are on the streets, it is impossible to properly fund and plan support services,” Johnson said.
“Without knowing the true scale of rough sleeping, the Government cannot properly invest the right level of resource and so risks missing its own target to end rough sleeping by the end of the current Parliament.”
A spokesman from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Working with councils and their partners, we have taken huge steps to protect rough sleepers during the pandemic.
“This work has not stopped and by November we supported 33,000 rough sleepers and other vulnerable people through Everyone In, with nearly 10,000 in emergency accommodation and over 23,000 already moved into longer-term accommodation.
“We continue to work with councils, charities and other partners to protect the most vulnerable, and have provided an unprecedented package of support, with over £700 million this year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping for good, and we will continue our ambitious plans with a further £750 million next year.”