The number of people sleeping out on England’s streets has risen for the seventh consecutive year — reaching the highest it's been since records began.
Government figures released on Thursday show that some 4,751 people slept rough in 2017, and, worryingly, campaigners have warned that those figures still don’t capture the true magnitude of the problem.
The numbers for 2017 represent an increase of 15% compared to the 4,134 people counted in 2016 — which itself represented a 16% increase on 2015.
It means that, since 2010, numbers of those sleeping rough in England have risen by 169%.
“These figures expose the worst pain inflicted by our housing crisis,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter.
“We have failed as a society when so many people are forced to sleep rough,” she added. “But they are not alone, the scourge of homelessness extends far beyond our streets.”
Campaigners highlighted that the figures don’t include the thousands of “hidden homeless” in England, including those homeless living in hostels or shelters, or who stay on friends’ sofas, sleep on public transport, or stay with strangers to avoid sleeping on the streets.
The figures released this week are based on single-night snapshot street counts — which is when councils send teams of volunteers to count the number of rough sleepers in their borough — or paper estimates by local authorities, according to the Guardian.
Of the total figure, 1,137 people are sleeping rough in London — an increase of 18% on 2016 — and 3,614 people are sleeping rough in the rest of the country.
The biggest regional increase, of 39%, was in the northwest of England, where rough sleeping has almost doubled over the past two years, reported the Guardian, and quadrupled since 2010. Hotspots in the area include Tameside, Salford, and Manchester.
In the south, meanwhile, several areas recorded rises of at least double the country average, including Oxford, Southend-on-Sea, Thanet, Swindon, Medway, Eastbourne, Hastings, Worthing, Peterborough, Reading, and Wiltshire.
The London borough of Camden recorded the biggest rise in rough sleepers by an individual council — and saw its number increase from 17 to 127 in just one year, although it's believed that could be based on a faulty count from 2016.
Paul Dennett, the mayor of Salford and the lead for housing, planning, and homelessness for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, blamed the “current epidemic of homelessness and rough sleeping” on a precarious labour market and cuts to benefits payments.
Meanwhile, the UK government has said it will halve rough sleeping by 2022, and eradicate it completely by 2027.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) said: “To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.”
They added that a new cross-government Taskforce supported by a panel of experts “will drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past.”
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