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Homelessness up by a quarter

Homelessness: Rough sleeping up more than a quarter in a year

The number of people sleeping rough in England rose by more than a quarter last year, official statistics suggest.

On a single night in autumn, 3,069 people slept outside, 26% more than in 2021, says the Department of Levelling Up, Communities and Housing.

The rise follows four years of decreases in rough sleeping, partly due to initiatives during the pandemic.

Rising prices are forcing people who have never slept rough before on to the streets, say charities. But, in Bristol, military veteran Simon Gilchrist blamed his drug addiction for keeping him on the streets. The 48-year-old fears he will be dead by 50. “Either the streets will kill me or the drugs. People who say ‘go get a job’ don’t know about addiction or why people take crack cocaine and heroin and alcohol,” he said.

During the pandemic, the government’s Everyone In initiative provided more than 37,000 rough sleepers with a place to stay. But many were not found permanent homes and were at risk of being back on the streets. The new figures suggest the number of people sleeping rough is 35% lower than the peak in 2017 – but 74% higher than in 2010.

Charities say they are seeing a difference in the type of people who have been seeking their help in recent months – many have never slept rough before. Julie Dempster, from Bristol Outreach Services for the Homeless, puts it down to the rising cost of living.

“It’s really frightening for those people who have not been homeless before,” she said. “The rental increase in Bristol is absolutely huge.” It is a common refrain in the city. The cost of a one-bed flat, for instance, has increased by almost 20% since 2019, to £950 a month. However, the maximum level of housing benefit for such properties has been frozen for three years, at £695 a month. “We’re seeing more people starting to sleep rough who haven’t had the experience of homelessness before,” said David Ingerslev from homeless charity St Mungo’s.

He said the rising cost of energy, fuel and food means “people aren’t always able to prioritise their rents”. “They may choose to move out, to sleep in the car for a short time, hoping they’ll be able to find something. It doesn’t come to pass and so people end up sleeping rough,” he said.

Struggling for warmth

We meet 23-year-old Samuel Atkinson sitting outside the Julian Trust night shelter, waiting for the doors to open. Samuel has been homeless for two months, after his relationship broke down, deciding to walk away from a “toxic environment” even though he had nowhere to go. A trained bricklayer, he counts himself as one of the “lucky ones”, as he has found cover in Bristol’s bus shelter on nights he could not get a bed. “It’s warm, you feel secure. It’s somewhere you can rest your head for a few hours,” he said.

Despite his situation, Samuel has a smile on his face. He is due to move into his own flat in the next few weeks, and describes himself as “on an upward curve”. “It will mean the world to me to know I’ve got my own place… somewhere I can feel safe,” he said.

The night shelter has room for 12 beds. All are pre-allocated to referrals from Bristol City Council but occasionally someone doesn’t show up, allowing staff to offer any spare beds on a first-come, first-served basis. On the night we visit, Samuel gets a bed but, behind him in the queue, Simon Gilchrist isn’t so lucky. Simon has been sleeping rough in Bristol for the past fortnight, having recently lost a hostel place. He has been homeless off and on for many years, a consequence of his drug addiction. He often sleeps on concrete behind a hotel, using the hot air the air conditioning unit pumps out to try to ward off the cold. “It gets into your bones,” he said. “I feel very alone.”

Labour’s shadow homelessness and rough sleeping minister, Paula Barker, urged ministers not to “stand idly by while a toxic mix of rising rents, the cost of living crisis and a failure to end no-fault evictions hit vulnerable people”. A Department of Levelling Up, Communities and Housing spokesperson said: “We know there is more to do to help families at risk of losing their homes and to end rough sleeping for good.” Measures include abolishing no-fault evictions and better funding for initiatives to end rough sleeping, said the official.

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