The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) has released its annual report covering the period April 2022 to March 2023, and the numbers make for somber reading.
According to data collected by outreach teams, 10,053 people were spotted rough sleeping in London in that time – a 21% increase compared to the previous year. Of these, over half (6,391) had never done it before, meaning there was a 26% rise in first-time rough sleepers compared to 2021/22.
The picture gets even worse when looked at longer term. The new CHAIN report indicates that rough sleeping in London has risen almost every year for the last ten years, with total numbers now 54% higher than in 2013/14. As always, it is also important to remember that people experiencing hidden homelessness are often missed in these counts, meaning true numbers are certainly even larger.
While every person included in these statistics has their own story, there are clearly trends which have contributed to what we are now seeing.
In London, demand for housing still far outstrips supply. Competition is high both for buying and renting properties, with prices and rents going up as a result. Alongside this, rising living costs mean that people are under wider financial pressure, and living closer to the breadline than they were even eighteen months ago. These economic factors make the prospect of losing tenancies or homes far more likely; they also mean it is more difficult to find somewhere new to live if you are forced to leave your current accommodation.
Cuts to local authority budgets have also impacted the delivery of services that relate to homelessness like social care and mental health support. People in crisis can find it incredibly difficult to access the help they need, which increases the likelihood that they will become homeless. In addition, emergency measures taken to house people during the Covid-19 pandemic have been largely wound down over the last year, leaving more people without recourse to support.
Of course, on top of these factors we also continue to see people made homeless owing to personal circumstances like family breakdown, abuse and mental health difficulties.
There are no easy solutions to these challenges. Homelessness is a complex, personal experience that can happen quickly, and take years to recover from. That said, systemic change is clearly needed if we are to get any closer to addressing the issue in the long-term.
The numbers are moving in the wrong direction. The Government, local authorities, charities, community groups, businesses and the wider public all have a role to play in bringing them back down.
You can download the CHAIN report in full here.