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March 1, 2023

Rising homelessness must be matched by better evidence to tailor solutions

Dr Lígia Teixeira

New statistics show that the cost-of-living crisis is starting to bite for people on low incomes or living in insecure housing. 

After four years of decreases, even during a global pandemic, the number of people sleeping rough in England has risen. According to the latest Rough Sleeping Snapshot, the estimated number of people sleeping rough is 3,069 people, an increase of 26% since 2021 and by 74% since 2010. The number of people sleeping rough grew in every region: in London it increased by 34% (from 640 in 2021 to 858 in 2022). Of those sleeping rough, nearly half of them are in London (28%) or the South East (19%), and more than 80% are male and single. Most of them are UK nationals (64%).

The latest data capturing activities carried out by local authorities to help prevent or relieve all types of homelessness also shows an increase, though a lot less sharp than street homelessness. From July to September 2022, there were 75,860 households initially assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness, an increase of 4% since last year, and of 3% since the last quarter. The number of those  threatened with homelessness, and therefore owed a prevention duty, increased by 6% since the last quarter (a total of 34,130 households), and the number experiencing homelessness, and therefore owed a relief duty, increased by 3% (38,190). 

Not new is the continued increase in the number of households living in temporary accommodation (TA) – by 4% since September 2021. There are now nearly 100,000 households living in TA, many of them with children. Also not new is the fact that most of these households are  concentrated in London. Per 1,000 households, there are almost 16 living in temporary accommodation in London, compared with 2 in the rest of England.

These figures are very worrying after five years in which homelessness trends have broadly been moving in a positive direction, at times dramatically so despite very challenging circumstances. Evidence tells us that this can often be a scarring, traumatic experience. It is tragic that more people’s lives are being blighted in this way. We must do everything we can to ensure that this rise in homelessness does not gain further momentum, as has happened so often with past cycles of homelessness.  

We continue to move step by step towards an approach that acknowledges homelessness is a systems issue.

Rising homelessness concentrated in a few areas

We are also taking positive steps towards measuring what’s happening in a dynamic way, enabling local areas to act more effectively based on a better understanding of the drivers of homelessness in their communities. Our work with five ‘Early Adopter’ local areas to co-produce a data-led framework to track patterns of rough sleeping should mean that resources can be better targeted and new partnerships developed to prevent street homelessness from happening and improve the response when it does.

Something we also know is that yet again a small number of areas are driving the rise in homelessness. More than half of the increase in the number of people sleeping rough is explained by 15 areas (5% of the total). Westminster alone accounts for 10% of the increase in the total number, followed up by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Leicester, and the City of London. 

We need to work closely with each of them to understand the dynamics of different areas, and tailor solutions accordingly.

One thing is certain: even if we can break this particular cycle and return homelessness trends to a downward path, the work will not end there. Homelessness is a complex issue and its underlying causes will remain.

So ending homelessness is not a one-more-heave endeavour after which the job is done. Ending homelessness will require constant vigilance, constant effort and constant priority. If we do get to the stage where we can say ending homelessness has been achieved, the work must go on. 

To end homelessness for good means to keep going, to keep up the work,

because homelessness is a complex issue - you need to end homelessness and then keep on ending it in perpetuity to maintain results.

Dr Ligia Teixeira is Chief Executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact

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