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London rough sleeping figures drop is ‘calm before the storm’

The number of people sleeping on the streets in the English capital was 40 per cent lower between April and June than the year before, but The Salvation Army warns of a rise ahead

The number of people spotted sleeping rough in London during the latest Covid-19 lockdown fell 40 per cent but The Salvation Army has warned the figures represent a “calm before the storm” as Covid-19 measures end.

The quarterly Combined Homelessness and Information Network recorded 2,589 people sleeping rough in the English capital between April and June, down by almost half on the same three-month period in 2020.

There was a similar drop in the number of people who were new to sleeping rough in London with the 1,177 people spotted by outreach workers down 56 per cent when compared to 2020.

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However, The Salvation Army told The Big Issue it expects an influx of people living on the streets once a “perfect storm of covid support measures” are removed, with the eviction ban already expired and the furlough scheme set to end at the end of September.

It’s a claim that has been echoed by The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness Campaign, which has brought together a nine-point plan to prevent rising homelessness in the coming months.

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 “While it is encouraging that there has been a drop in London rough sleepers, we are concerned that there are still many new rough sleepers ending up on the streets. The Salvation Army is very worried that the numbers of people forced to sleep rough may start to spiral as emergency pandemic support ends,” said Hilarie Watchorn, The Salvation Army’s assistant director of homelessness services.

“If the government is to meet its commitment to put an end to rough sleeping by the end of this parliament it must invest in services to help people tackle the reasons they have been made homeless in the first place which can include unemployment, poor physical or mental health and addiction.

“Thousands were protected from homelessness during the pandemic thanks to schemes like ‘Everyone in’, furlough and eviction protection. However, many of these same people still need help now this safety net is being removed.

“As well as this, when we head into winter, many night shelters will still be unable to operate due to needing to provide single rooms to help stop the spread of covid.”

The London-only CHAIN statistics are considered one of the most accurate measures of rough sleeping in England and are the only measures produced quarterly, as opposed to the official counts which rely on single-night counts and estimates.

While the latest quarterly figures showed an overall drop, there was a sharp year-on-year rise in the number of people living on the streets, up 50 per cent to 395 between April and June. In 2020 the UK government introduced the Everyone In scheme to protect rough sleepers from Covid-19 in emergency accommodation while councils were urged to “redouble efforts” to protect them once again in January.

The Salvation Army said more investment is required to ensure stable long-term shelter is available for people protected through Everyone In as well as calling on the government to boost investment in finding long-term permanent homes for people.

The charity also called for increased funding to go towards prevention to ensure people don’t fall into homelessness.

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird made an identical call when The Big Issue launched the Stop Mass Homelessness Campaign earlier in July.

“More people are at risk of homelessness now than at any time in living memory,” said Lord Bird. 

“The government was quick to support us when they put over 37,000 homeless people into accommodation in the first lockdown. We need a similar radical approach to prevent an avalanche of homelessness this autumn.”

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homelessevery three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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