More than 170,000 families and individuals across Britain are experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, according to new figures released today. This includes people sleeping on our streets, sofa-surfing with strangers, living in hostels, and stuck in other dangerous situations.
The new research, commissioned by national homelessness charity Crisis and carried out by Heriot-Watt University, shows that this dire situation affects all age groups. There are at least 38,000 young adults under the age of 25 experiencing homelessness, with almost half of this group sofa-surfing. There are also at least 4,200 homeless people aged 65 or over. (Please see Notes to Editors for data and definitions.)
The total also includes over 20,000 households in England and Scotland who are stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and nightly-paid hotels – a number that has doubled between 2012 and 2017, mainly driven by rises in England. In Wales, the number of households in this category has fallen but there has been a steep rise in rough sleeping.
While rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, today's new research shows that for every person on our streets there also are another twelve homeless families or individuals stuck in situations such as sofa-surfing or living in temporary accommodation.
Homelessness is devastating and dangerous. At least 554 people in the UK have died while homeless since October 2017, according to figures released this week by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Crisis is calling on Britain's governments to urgently tackle the root causes of homelessness, which include a shortage of social housing, housing benefits that often do not cover even the cheapest private rents, and a lack of homelessness prevention schemes for people leaving state institutions such as the care system.
While these underlying causes can only be tackled by policy changes, there are also ways that members of the public can help immediately. 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, call 999.
Members of the public can also help by raising vital funds for Crisis' year-round services and its Christmas centres. The charity today opens its Christmas centres to an expected 4,500 homeless people who are in immediate need.
The centres, in cities including London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, and Newcastle, are run by more than 11,000 volunteers. They provide homeless guests with warmth, companionship, and three hot meals a day, as well as vital medical, housing, and other advisory services. The centres also introduce people to Crisis' year-round support, helping them to leave homelessness behind for good.
Professor Glen Bramley, the lead author of the research, said: "In this research, we've painted a fuller picture of people across Britain who are currently experiencing the most acute forms of homelessness or living in short-term or unsuitable accommodation. It shows that these types of homelessness have increased overall across England, clearly showing the rising pressures of homelessness, whilst in Scotland and Wales levels have fluctuated depending on the type of homelessness. These figures present the estimates by drawing on and combining a range of sources.
“Accurately measuring these more extreme forms of homelessness is difficult. There is a critical opportunity now to transform the way we measure acute homelessness, and the living conditions and wellbeing of a range of vulnerable people in our communities.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time for people who are homeless. While others are celebrating with family and friends, homeless people face a daily struggle just to stay safe and warm.
“This new research echoes what we see every day in our frontline work – that there is no such thing as a 'typical' homeless person, and that this crisis is affecting people who range from young care-leavers to pensioners. And, while rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, for every person on our streets there are another twelve families or individuals experiencing other terrible situations like sofa-surfing and living in cramped B&Bs.
“That's why we open our Christmas centres to thousands of people in need. We offer our guests somewhere safe to spend Christmas and we introduce them to our year-long services to help them leave homelessness behind. This is only possible due to our supporters and volunteers' incredible generosity, and we hope the public will help us to keep doing this until all of Britain's governments put in place the policies that will end homelessness for good.”