Prioritise not penalise people forced to sleep rough

published on 29 Feb 2024

As new figures show a steep rise in people living on the streets of England, The Salvation Army is calling for legal reform so people sleeping rough are a priority for housing. 

This comes at a time when the Government is instead using the law to introduce new powers through the Criminal Justice Bill that would make rough sleeping an offence punishable with a fine or imprisonment.

The annual Rough Sleeping Snapshot in England* published today estimates that 3,898 people were sleeping rough on a single night in Autumn, 2023. This was a 27 per cent increase since 2022. As official Government figures don’t record everyone sleeping rough, the church and charity believes the true number to be considerably higher.

Director of The Salvation Army’s Homeless Services, Nick Redmore, said: 

"The focus should be on giving people a safe place to stay rather than criminalizing desperation. Rough sleeping is rising but imposing fines on people will make it even harder for them to move on from street living.  If the Government wants to use the law to get people off the streets, then it needs to reform homelessness legislation which currently leaves thousands without shelter and at risk of illness, injury and early death. Making it a legal duty that those sleeping rough are prioritised for help with housing should be on the agenda of all political parties in the upcoming General Election. 

“The Government must also ensure that financially stretched local authorities are given the funding and guidance to invest in emergency accommodation and longer-term social housing so they would be able to meet this legal obligation. As another set of Government figures** out today show a nearly nine per cent increase in the number of people in England registered with the local council as homeless, it’s clear that the need for Government action is urgent.”

The Salvation Army is calling for:

  • In the short term, a change to homelessness legislation in England so that rough sleepers are added to the priority need list for emergency and then longer-term housing but, in the long term, for the priority need list to be abolished so everyone who is homeless can be helped. 
  • Increased funding for homelessness and rough sleeping services in line with inflation and a sustained investment in housing stock, especially social housing, to help local authorities and other service providers to meet growing demand.
Salvation Army officer welcoming a homeless person into a Salvation Army centre

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