More than 24,000 people in Britain will spend Christmas sleeping rough, on public transport, or in tents, according to worrying new research from one of the UK’s largest homelessness charities.
The research, commissioned by national homelessness charity Crisis and undertaken by Heriot-Watt University shows that 12,300 people are currently sleeping rough on the street and nearly 12,000 are spending their nights in cars, trains, buses or tents.
The number of people sleeping rough in England is more than double what government statistics suggest. Those are based solely on local authority estimates using local information or a physical count on one given night.
Crisis and Heriot-Watt’s research completes the picture by collating the government figures with other crucial sources of data.
These include academic studies, statutory statistics, and data from other support services that record people’s experiences of sleeping rough which aren’t captured in the government’s count.
Shockingly, between 2012 and 2017, the numbers have soared by 120% in England and 63% in Wales. Numbers in Scotland fell by 6% over the same period.
Those sleeping without a roof over their head are constantly exposed to dangers, including extreme temperatures – but also to abuse, with homeless people almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused compared to the general public, according to previous Crisis research.
A recent poll for the charity by YouGov showed that the majority of Brits (61%) feel angry, upset, or frustrated about the state of homelessness across the country, and feel the government should do more to tackle the crisis.
The charity is urging governments across the country to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping, including by strengthening the welfare system and making sure that every homeless person has access to mainstream housing as quickly as possible.
While the underlying causes of homelessness can only be tackled by policy changes, Crisis is asking members of the public who want to help to do so in a number of ways.
Most importantly if you see someone sleeping rough, contact Streetlink (in England & Wales), or the local council in Scotland, to connect that person with the homelessness services in their area. If you have immediate concerns about their welfare, you should call 999.
The charity is also asking for help to help raise vital funds for its year-round services and its Christmas centres, which provide shelter, warm meals, and vital services to thousands of homeless people over the holidays.
The centres also provide vital medical, housing, and other advisory services as well as introducing people to our year-round support which helps people to rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind for good.
Alex is in his 30s and was homeless for six months last year after his 15-year marriage broke down. With support from Crisis, he now lives in a Housing Association flat and has received ongoing support to help him get back into work.
Alex said: “When my marriage ended, I didn’t want a toxic atmosphere for my kids. I sofa-surfed with a friend for a bit, and then ended up living in a tent in a park in Croydon.
“I used to think: ‘If someone sees me, maybe they’ll nick whatever I have or attack me.’ That was my fear, that I wouldn’t make it through the night.
“To get through it, I used to tell myself it was just an extended camping trip – I made a big effort to look the same as I always did and started each morning with a trip to Crisis’ centre to shower and started doing classes with them.
There’s this stigma that people who are homeless have given up, but that’s not true, I’m not going to just put my feet up. I want to get back to work, ideally in filming, that’s the next step for me.”
Chief Executive of Crisis Jon Sparkes said: “Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but.
“While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold.
“This situation simply cannot continue. While the Scottish Government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, full implementation cannot come soon enough.
“Meanwhile, the governments in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to end this crisis.
“We know homelessness can be ended. Earlier this year we set out the exact government policies that would end homelessness across Britain. Our research shows that, with these policies in place, homelessness could be ended in just ten years.
“In the meantime, we’re asking members of the public who want to help to support our work this Christmas and year-round – so we can be there for everyone who needs us and give people in the most vulnerable circumstances support to leave homelessness behind for good.”
Disclaimer: This is an amended press release from the homeless charity Crisis.