In England, Wales and Northern Ireland snapshot surveys take place each autumn to record the number of people experiencing street homelessness on a given night. This involves physical count-based estimates on the number of people visibly ‘sleeping rough’. Some areas also use evidence-based estimates which rely on data from partner agencies. As snapshot estimates are based on a single night they do not distinguish between people who may have experienced rough sleeping for a longer period of time and those new to the streets. Estimates are required to be independently verified by Homeless Link.
The Rough Sleeping Snapshot in England offers an estimate of the number of people sleeping rough on a single night between 1 October and 30 November, as well as some basic demographic information including age, gender and nationality. This snapshot allows us to assess changes over time. Street homelessness has been declining since its peak in 2017, after increasing substantially between 2010 and 2017.
The Rough Sleeping Snapshot presents estimates for regions and local authorities. In this blog we outline the latest findings using estimates and rates per 100,000 population. Estimates allow us to understand how many people are experiencing street homelessness whilst rates per 100,000 population allow us to make comparisons across areas where population sizes differ.
In the latest Snapshot release from Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities ‘sleeping rough’ is outlined as: ‘those sleeping or about to bed down in open air locations and other places including tents, stairwells, car parks and makeshift shelters. The snapshot does not include people in hostels or shelters, people who are sleeping on sofas, or those in recreational or organised protest, squatter or traveller campsites. The snapshot records only those people seen, or thought to be, sleeping rough on a single night. The snapshot does not include everyone in an area with a history of sleeping rough, or everyone sleeping rough in areas across the October to November period.’
From the latest 2021 Rough Sleeping Snapshot, the number of people estimated to be experiencing street homelessness on a single night in autumn fell for the fourth year in a row from its peak in 2017. It remains higher overall than 2010 when the snapshot was first introduced.
In 2021, 2,440 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night (4.3 people per 100,000 population). This estimate is 250 people fewer than the previous year, or a 9% decline. This shows a substantial decline of 49% since the 2017 peak. The 2021 estimate is, however, still 38% higher than 2010 when the ‘snapshot’ approach was first introduced, when 1,768 people were sleeping rough on a single night (3.4 people per 100,000 population).
Rough sleeping decreased in every region of England compared to the previous year. The greatest decline was seen in London where 640 people were estimated to be sleeping rough, compared to 710 last year. Nearly half (45%) of all people sleeping rough were in London and the South East.
In Westminster, 187 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night (69.9 per 100,000). This is 55 less people or a 23% decrease on the previous year (89.7 per 100,000). Other local authorities who reported a decrease in the latest snapshot compared to the previous year, as well as a significant decrease in the rate per 100,000 population were Exeter, Manchester, Norwich, Kensington and Chelsea.
When comparing the 2021 Rough Sleeping Snapshot against the previous year, Camden showed the greatest increase in both the physical count estimate and rate per 100,000 population. There were 97 people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in Camden in 2021 (35.2 per 100,000) compared to 42 people in 2020 (15.0 per 100,000), showing a 57% increase.
In terms of demographic data, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities reported that most people sleeping rough in England were male, aged over 26 years old and from the UK, showing similar trends to previous years. No people under the age of 18 were found sleeping rough. 85% of people sleeping rough on a single night were male.
Experiences of street homelessness can be higher in coastal and university areas. In Brighton and Hove, 37 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in Autumn (12.5 per 100,000). This is an increase of 10 people from the previous year but 58% less than 2019 (9.3 per 100,000). In Oxford 24 people were estimated to be sleeping rough (15.8 per 100,000), an increase of 5 more people than the previous year (12.5 per 100,000). In Cambridge there was a slight decrease in the number of people sleeping rough, 14 people in 2021 (11.2 per 100,000) compared to 16 in 2020 (12.8 per 100,000).
In both 2020 and 2021, snapshot estimates of rough sleeping levels were lower than earlier years, possibly related to policy response, including providing emergency accommodation during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to people experiencing street homelessness.
The annual snapshot for 2020 took place during a national lockdown throughout November and regional restrictions in October. This is likely to have impacted people's risk of experiencing street homelessness and and the way that counts or estimates in each local authority area were conducted. These should be considered when comparing the Rough Sleeping Snapshot 2020 against other years.
The latest Rough Sleeping Snapshot did not coincide with significant Covid-19 restrictions which may have impacted people’s risk of rough sleeping. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities reported that by November 2021 there were nearly 4,300 people in emergency and short-term accommodation who would have either been sleeping rough or at risk of doing so. The report notes that over 40,000 people have been moved into longer-term accommodation since the pandemic.
View the full report.
For more information on other rough sleeping statistics across the UK take a look at the Office for National Statistics report: Rough sleeping in the UK: 2002 to 2021.
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