1. How many people are homeless?
Homelessness takes different forms.
The most severe and visible form of homelessness is rough sleeping. People who sleep rough are sometimes called street homeless. On any one night official estimates show almost 5,000 people are sleeping rough in England. This figure is probably an underestimate, because it is based on surveys, which inevitably don’t find everyone. Using a range of other data, the charity Crisis has estimated that the true figure is about 8,000. This is a number for any one night. Many more people sleep rough at some point during the year as people move on and off the streets, perhaps seven or eight times as many people sleep rough at some point in the year in London.
In addition, there are about 80,000 households in England meeting the statutory definition of homeless and living in temporary accommodation with no settled home (the term “household” is rather inappropriate here, as they don’t have a permanent house to hold on to).
There are many more “hidden homeless” without a permanent home but not meeting the statutory definition. These include, for example, people living in grossly over-crowded accommodation, or moving between unsuitable places. There is no reliable data on how many people live this way, but it is estimated to be at least many tens of thousands.
All forms of homelessness damage people’s health and well-being, both immediately and over the long term, and stop them from achieving their potential.
The Connection works mainly with people who are sleeping rough.
2. Is homelessness increasing or decreasing?
Rough sleeping in England has almost tripled in recent years. For every 10 people sleeping rough in 2010 there were 27 in 2017.
Other forms of homelessness have also increased a lot. The number of people in temporary accommodation increased by over 50% from March 2010 to 2018. Although this is a smaller percentage than for rough sleeping, the absolute numbers involved are greater.
3. Why is homelessness increasing?
The general shortage and lack of affordability of housing is the critical underlying cause of the rise in homelessness of all types, with significant problems in the private rented sector among others.
This is compounded by a particular shortage of suitable types of accommodation for rough sleepers, the lack of adequate support for people trying to transition away from the streets and the need for better co-ordination of service delivery.
4. Is Central London different?
Yes. The Borough of Westminster, where the Connection operates, is unlike any other borough in several related ways.
It has an exceptionally high number of rough sleepers. About 1 in 15 of all rough sleepers in England are found in Westminster, more than any other local authority.
This is partly because central London attracts many people from other parts of the UK and beyond, as it has for centuries. Not all of these will find what they are looking for, and some end up sleeping rough.
The mix of people who are sleeping rough is also different. In particular, there is a much larger proportion of non-UK nationals, for whom solutions are often limited.
And, crucially, accommodation in Westminster, which includes many prime residential and business areas, is extraordinarily scarce and expensive.
Moreover, in addition to the 300 or so people observed sleeping rough in Westminster each night, there is also a daytime population of a similar size that comes onto the streets each day. The daytime population includes people sleeping rough in outer boroughs, as well as some people with access to hostels or other temporary accommodation.