Drop in rough sleepers masks true number of people on the streets

published on 29 Jan 2021

The Salvation Army is warning that figures showing a drop in rough sleepers in London, could be concealing a surge in hidden homelessness.

The CHAIN figures show that 3,307 rough sleepers were recorded in Greater London between October and December 2020. This is a 9 per cent drop on the same quarter last year, but, alarmingly, 48 per cent being new rough sleepers.

The Salvation Army believes the decrease is due to the continuing efforts of services and local authorities to find self-contained accommodation for people as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative and Protect Programme, but starkly this is failing to reach those newly on the streets.

Lorrita Johnson, The Salvation Army's Director of Homelessness Services, said:

“While it is good news that the figures show fewer people are forced to sleep rough, the number of first-time rough sleepers is deeply concerning. New rough sleepers are coming onto the streets all the time and include those whose livelihoods disappeared overnight or when their temporary arrangements like ‘sofa surfing’, became impossible due to social distancing.

A woman wrapped up in a sleeping bag on a city street

“The Salvation Army is very concerned that the short-term gains from giving people a place to stay under ‘Everyone In’ will be squandered because a long-term, sustainable approach to funding homelessness support remains sorely lacking. That funding can help a person tackle the reasons why they were forced to sleep rough in the first place which can be anything from poor mental health, to fleeing domestic abuse, to trauma or an addiction.

“Providing housing and shelter is of course vital, but without long-term properly funded support, we know many vulnerable people will end up back on the streets.”

The London CHAIN figures are the only quarterly produced data in England which measures rough sleeping. One of the key asks of Government by The Salvation Army in its Future-Proof the Roof Report, a blueprint for tackling rough sleeping, is that such measurement is extended across England.

“Without accurately knowing how many people are on the streets, it is impossible to properly fund and plan support services."
Lorrita Johnson, Director of Homelessness Services,

Lorrita continued: “Without accurately knowing how many people are on the streets, it is impossible to properly fund and plan support services.

“Without knowing the true scale of rough sleeping, the Government cannot properly invest the right level of resource and so risks missing its own target to end rough sleeping by the end of the current Parliament.”

A rough sleeper receives hot food and drink

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Additional information

About the CHAIN data

The data is updated directly by a range of organisations who work with rough sleepers in London.

These organisations include:

  • Outreach workers
  • Rough sleeper assessment services
  • Accommodation, including hostels and supported housing

Future-Proof the Roof

The Salvation Army published its own blueprint for tackling homelessness and rough sleeping last summer, Future-Proof the Roof. The report highlights a new approach to investment in homelessness and rough sleeping, which will allow the Government to maintain recent progress and provide added protection against the wider economic downturn caused by Covid-19.

Key recommendations from Future-Proof the Roof include:

  • According to a recent assessment of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative by the National Audit Office there has been “a continued flow of rough sleepers onto the streets [during the pandemic], and that number continued to rise over the Summer and Autumn of 2020.” Although the government has been collected data on a weekly basis since June 2020, permanent improvements are needed to the way that information is collected about rough sleeping in England. As part of these improvements, the Government should look to introduce CHAIN-type recording systems in city regions outside of London with high rough sleeping numbers.
  • If the Government wishes to maintain the progress made through the ‘Everyone In’ initiative and meet its manifesto commitment to eradicate rough sleeping, a multi-year investment programme is essential. As a result, the government should abandon its current approach of rolling over investment programmes from year to year, in favour of a sustained multi-faceted approach stretching from now until the end of the current Parliament, and beyond.
  • In addition to its efforts to secure new housing options for people who’ve spent time in emergency accommodation during the pandemic, the Government must also ensure that the necessary support is available to help people maintain their tenancies. This includes tenancy sustainment, addictions, mental and physical health, and employment services.

Future-Proof the Roof

Our blueprint for tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

Read more