Charities have reacted angrily after a senior Tory minister claimed that some homeless people are actively choosing to sleep rough on our streets.
Communities Minister Baroness Williams appeared to blame soaring levels of homelessness on the same people who are forced to brave sub-zero temperatures in shop doorways and tent cities.
Responding to a question from Baroness Armstrong about shocking levels of homelessness in England, Baroness Williams said “the reasons for rough sleeping are many and complex”, but then added that some rough sleepers “actually do choose to sleep rough”.
Seemingly ignoring Baroness Armstrong’s disgust at her ill-conceived comments, Baroness Williams added that the Government is committed to tackling rough sleeping and “ensuring that nobody spends a second night out”.
Official Government figures published at the end of February reveal how the number of rough sleepers increased by a worrying 30% in 2015 alone, and up 102% since 2010.
An estimated 3,569 people slept rough in 2015, with councils in the Midlands and South East reporting the biggest increases. Local authority funding for homeless services has been cut by 45% in the last five years.
Homeless charities have since responded to the Minister’s comments, explaining that rough sleeping is extremely dangerous and should not be perceived as a “lifestyle choice”.
Mathew Downie, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the homeless charity Crisis, told the Huffington Post that rough sleeping can be extremely dangerous, with rough sleepers “thirteen times more likely to be a victim of violence”.
“Given this context it is hard to conceive of someone making a rational choice to sleep on the streets”, he added.
Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at the charity Centrepoint, said: “The minister’s comments do not reflect the reality that for the young people we support rough sleeping isn’t a lifestyle choice, they simply have nowhere else to go.”
He added: “The simple fact is that the number of young people rough sleeping in London has doubled in the last five years. The problem lies in demand for bed spaces rather with a shortage of supply.”
Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive at St Mungo’s, said: “No-one sets out to sleep rough. Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous, and even takes lives. We believe no one should be sleeping on our streets.
“Recent rises in the number of people sleeping rough are simply shocking.
“The reality is that people end up on the streets for a number of complex and interrelated reasons, including mental health, relationship breakdown, loss of a job or tenancy and substance use.”
A report by St Mungos reveals rising levels of mental illness among homeless people, with one in four now suffering with mental health problems, and warned that vulnerable people “are not getting sufficient help to avoid rough sleeping”.
The charity has since written to David Cameron, urging the Prime Minister to launch a new rough sleeping strategy to help reduce the number of people sleeping rough.