Charities warn of spike in homelessness expected in the run up to Christmas

Image above: A homeless person asks for help; library image

An additional 50,000 people may be made homeless by the end of the year 

As the Christmas season approaches, there is growing concern about a significant surge in homelessness in London. New data reveals a shocking increase in rough sleeping, painting a bleak picture for the capital’s most vulnerable people.

We have been looking at the latest figures provided by local councils and talking to local charities which support homeless people, and the situation appears dire.

A national homelessness study by charity Crisis and Heriot-Watt University, shared with ITV News, reveals that nearly a quarter of a million households in England, including London, are experiencing some form of homelessness: rough sleeping, sofa-surfing, or staying in unsuitable temporary accommodations.

The most recent figures from the information network CHAIN indicate that during the period between July and September 2023 a staggering 4,068 people were counted sleeping rough on the streets of London. This marks a worrying 12% increase compared to the same period in 2022, representing the highest quarterly rough sleeping count since records began.

London Councils, through the Local Government Association, are sounding the alarm, warning that the homelessness crisis is spiralling out of control. Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Regeneration, Housing & Planning, expressed deep concern about the situation. He said:

“This spike in rough sleeping numbers is the latest evidence of London’s worsening homelessness crisis. After several years of solid progress in reducing rough sleeping, it is devastating to see rough sleeping skyrocket to a record high. Local support services are under immense pressure and the situation is spiralling out of control.”

Some key factors driving the surge in rough sleeping are the cost of living, the housing crisis, specifically the lack of temporary accommodation being provided by local authorities, and an increasing number of people leaving Home Office accommodation, such as hotels, after receiving decisions on their asylum applications as the Home Office seeks to clear its backlog of undecided cases.

Joanne MacInnes, Director of the refugee charity West London Welcome told us the Home Office is “rushing through” decisions to meet their target of clearing the backlog by the end of the year. Her charity, as a result, are now more than ever in desperate need of landords with a flat or spare room who can rent at the housing benefit rate.

The repercussions of this, she says, are that many people are being evicted from their accommodation before they have had a chance to organise work or benefits, or to find a place to live in the private market. It could see an estimated 50,000 extra people being made homeless by the end of the year

Image above: A homeless man in London; library image

The reality of homelessness in London

London faces some of the most severe homelessness challenges in the country. Rough sleeping is the most visible form, but an estimated 170,000 homeless people in the city live in temporary accommodation provided by their local boroughs. This equates to one in 50 residents of the capital, and shockingly, one in every 23 children.

London Councils say they cannot cope with the demand. They are calling for comprehensive policy action to address these homelessness pressures. This includes an uplift in Local Housing Allowance housing benefit for low-income private renters and increased Homelessness Prevention Grant funding for local support services.

The Local Government Association is also urging the government to extend the 28-day ‘move on’ period to 56 days to help prevent refugees and asylum-seekers from becoming homeless.

Iain Cooper, CEO of The Upper Room charity, described some of the challenges the charity is facing during the Christmas season. The demand for The Upper Room’s services has been steadily increasing. They are now providing more than twice the number of meals they were in January 2022.

“We are a symptom of a growing problem here,” Iain told The Chiswick Calendar, “and what we do at The Upper Room is a downstream service for things that happened, like the rise in no-fault evictions and the challenges in the private rental market.”

Iain noted a large portion of the charity’s service users were in insecure employment, unemployed, or have low or no earned income.

“If they’re not in accommodation that’s housing association, local authority, or secure in some shape or form, their landlord can decide to evict them if they want to charge more rent,” Iain added.

“On an immediate level, there needs to be much more support in the provision of emergency overnight accommodation. In the longer term, there needs to be a fix around the availability of social housing and affordable rents.”

Image above: Iain Cooper The Upper Room’s CEO, Home Secretary Suella Braverman

Home secretary’s comments on criminalising homeless people in tents “totally immoral”

The recent proposal by Home Secretary Suella Braverman to restrict the use of tents by homeless individuals has sparked a furious response from homeless charities and many from the general public.

Advocates for homeless people, including Iain Cooper, have voiced their disgust about criminalising those seeking shelter, especially during the winter months. Iain said:

“I wouldn’t say this is a political point because I think it’s a point more about common decency in humanity. Whatever flavour of government might be in, trying to criminalise providing somebody with shelter when they’ve got no where indoors to sleep, any time of year but a winter particularly, is potentially hugely harmful.

“If we have another cold snap… December last year we had all those snows, so if you’re saying to a charity like ours… ‘I’m sorry it’s now illegal for you to give somebody a tent’… that is dehumanising, a huge issue for me… on just a totally immoral scale.

“Nobody chooses to sleep in the rain, or to sleep or the frost, or the snow.”

Iain suggested various ways the public can make a positive impact in the lead-up to Christmas.

Donations of warm clothing, one-man tents, sleeping bags, and cash contributions are highly valuable. Cash donations are of course useful too, so charities can allocate funds where they are needed most, including purchasing essential items.

“Please don’t get sidetracked by the dehumanising commentary that we’re seeing in the last couple of days, there’s there’s still good that you can do. I’m sure on a human level, you wouldn’t want one of your relatives or family, friends to be to be homeless and sleeping rough – so just bear a thought for that person and what would you do if it was your relative.”

To make a donation, of cash or winter clothing, especially coats, or for information on volunteering with The Upper Room or if you are a landlord with a flat or spare room available to rent at the housing benefit rate West London Welcome, go to their respective websites at theupperroom.org.uk and westlondonwelcome.com. For landlord-specific queries email West London Welcome at hello@westlondonwelcome.com.