Recent figures released by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network indicate that the number of people sleeping rough in London went down by 25% between April 2021 and March 2022.
This is very welcome news. Sleeping rough can be dangerous and potentially traumatic, so we must prevent it wherever possible.
However, while keeping people off the streets is necessary, it does not solve homelessness by itself. There are two key reasons for this.
First, homelessness takes many forms, of which rough sleeping is just one. Other people are hidden and homeless, doing things like sofa surfing or living in unregulated accommodation which makes them harder to see, and to count. In addition, others are stuck in short-term housing like B&Bs and flats that are provided by the council in lieu of suitable, long-term accommodation. These types of homelessness are different to rough sleeping and can increase or decrease independently of it.
Second, leaving the streets is just the start of many people’s journey out of homelessness. Without the right support and systems in place, they may struggle to access what they need to move on for good.
For example, CHAIN’s report found that 50% of rough sleepers over the last year needed mental health support. If this is not delivered effectively, issues like depression and anxiety can lead people into old behaviors and back to homelessness. The same report also found that around 75% of rough sleepers had at least one support need. Whether that is a physical health problem, addiction issues or something else, these needs must be addressed in each individual case if people are to move on positively.
Furthermore, wider support is often vital to helping people rebuild their lives after rough sleeping. This might include help with finding work, accessing training opportunities or finding a new home. This kind of work must be tailored to the needs of each individual if it is to work effectively. Only by identifying peoples strengths and aspirations, and using those to create personalized paths forward, can you empower people to make long-term change.
We are not detracting from the successes made in reducing rough sleeping, which should be celebrated. Instead, we want to emphasize the importance of the support people receive after they have stopped rough sleeping. If we are to make recent achievements last, we must keep the big picture of homelessness in mind and make sure these gains are the start, not the end.