After an extraordinary year, I was not surprised to see the latest government figures – announced last week – showing a 37% reduction in rough sleeping in England. This is the third year in a row we’ve seen a reduction but it’s the first time it’s felt substantial enough to be really significant. Where 4,266 people were found on a single night in the autumn of 2019, this was down to 2,688 in the equivalent count in 2020.
However, even with such a substantial drop, the numbers are still almost 1,000 more than they were in 2010.
The annual street count is a snapshot – it tells us how many people are rough sleeping on one particular night. The homelessness sector estimate that the annual street count equates to about 10% of the total number of people sleeping rough over a 12-month period.That means we’ve gone from about 42,600 people sleeping rough to 27,000.
Everyone In and responding to lockdown…
When you know this, the impact of the government’s Everyone In scheme is clear to see. Launched just as the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020, Everyone In provided the resources to support around 33,000 people off the streets and into hotels. Around 10,000 people are still in emergency accommodation and over 23,000 have moved on into longer term accommodation. This is an incredible achievement.
The Connection was heavily involved in the success of Everyone In, running two hotels for 110 people. You can find out more here.
There were a number of factors that helped to make the scheme a success. For many, it was the first time they’d had the privacy of their own room and bathroom for years – a big improvement on the streets or even communal night shelters. The quality of sleep alone made a big difference. The need to self-isolate and the very quiet streets of London acted as a circuit breaker to established patterns of self-harmful behaviour for many.
We were also able to bring appropriate physical and mental health treatment to the hotels, as well as support to overcome addictions. At the same time, we were able to process benefits claims, sort out ID, and register people to have EU Settled Status. Over 100 hotel residents in Westminster moved into private rented accommodation and a few got jobs even during the first lockdown. Many others were offered social and supported housing.
As the world opened up again in the summer, the number of people on the streets rose again to over 200 by the time the autumn street count took place. However, the very cold weather in January and February this year meant that the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) was implemented. An intensive outreach and hotel system between the Westminster Homeless Partnership agencies led to nearly 200 people moving inside. This meant rough sleeping numbers in Westminster dipped right down to just over 100.
It is fantastic to see such low numbers on the streets.However, it doesn’t mean that the problem is resolved. Rough sleeping is the obvious and shocking manifestation of things going very wrong in our society. Once someone has hit the streets, it takes more than a few nights in a hotel bed for people to move into a permanent home of their own. Many people have other needs that must be addressed across a range of health and social care services in order to enable them to thrive in accommodation.
What more can we do?
Just before the first lockdown, The Connection hosted a visit from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick. At that visit, we outlined the 5 changes needed across adult health and social care that would make a huge difference to rough sleeping. They are:
1. Increase the availability of quality accommodation with more support for people to access and sustain tenancies
2. Improve access to mental health and addiction services to tackle the underlying causes of homelessness
3. Improve the administration of benefits so it does not hinder people’s ability to avoid or escape homelessness
4. Make benefit levels, wages and the reliability of working hours sufficient for people to afford rent, along with more affordable rent levels
5. Reform reconnection and resettlement through a national framework to represent viable options for people to escape homelessness
These 5 changes remain as important as ever.
As a society, we must make sure we do not waste the opportunity the pandemic response has provided to continue supporting people away from the streets and into accommodation. We have made incredible progress, and we must not go back. Moving into a hotel is a great start and a vital first step. However, there is still an awful lot to do. Just because you can’t see people, it doesn’t mean they have gone away!
Working hard with our partners in the Westminster Homeless Partnership, we are still supporting people to move on from hotels and into longer term accommodation with the extra support they need to recover and thrive.
I would like to thank everyone who has supported us during this strange and difficult year – together we have achieved incredible things. I would also like to thank our staff, and the staff and volunteers from all homelessness agencies for everything they’ve done to support people sleeping rough stay safe during the pandemic – it has undoubtedly saved lives.
If you’d like to help us to continue to support people sleeping rough, there are a number of ways you can get involved; you can donate, you can donate needed items, or why not buy some of our brand new hot cross bun kits for Easter?