Do we know many people are homeless in West Berkshire and the UK?

The scale of homelessness Nationally is extremely difficult to count and establish. Homelessness comes in many forms which many do not realise.  Rough sleepers are the visible homeless but there are people trapped and living a life of homelessness away from the community eye in temporary accommodation, hostels, people’s sofas or floors and night shelters. 

Hidden homelessness, known as sofa surfing, is incredibly difficult to count and impossible to quantify as people stay with friends or relatives out of sight and often do not consider themselves to be homeless and do not contact local authorities or charities. The statistics for this are unknown but very large number of people can flit for years, moving around, slowly exhausting friendships and family generosity. It is considered that 62 percent of homeless are sofa surfing, out of sight from their local community  

It is vital that an accurate picture of how many people are homeless in the UK is ascertained. Knowing this information is of course the start of trying to fix the problem. This however is a huge undertaking and unfortunately never an accurate one. 

In England in 2020 Crisis estimated that around 200,000 people were experiencing homelessness. They have a UK Homelessness Monitor System that covers Scotland and Wales but there are currently no equivalent figures for the current state of homelessness following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Homelessness has changed and rough sleeper figures have reduced due to Government funding and directives. This was known as “The Everyone In” scheme,  this brought rough sleepers off the streets to provide them shelter in hotels and other emergency accommodation during the pandemic. Newbury Soup Kitchen helped with this, we worked with local authority and some charities to encourage engagement and building relationships to help get people off the streets, safe and away from the virus, we continue to do this.

As a result there has been National shift in the number of people moving off the streets and into temporary accommodation. According to Crisis a further 95,450 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation by March 2021. 

Even though however, emergency and move on accommodation has been provided new people are experiencing homelessness due to change of circumstances from the pandemic with job losses and relationship breakdowns. This is contributing to the  ‘revolving door’ homelessness situation which is when individuls return to the streets or back into sofa surfing situations. 

The statutory homelessness figures tell us how many households have contacted councils for help with homelessness. 

It is difficult to count just how many people are homeless at any one time because there are various issues to take into consideration. People move around, live under the radar, and do not engage.

From these figures in England, 288,470 households requested assistance from councils to prevent or relieve homelessness in 2019-20 and 9,993 in Wales. From the last quarterly report from UK Government 68,250 English households approached councils for help and support between January and March 2021, these figures have reduced by 10 per cent on the same period in 2020. COVID Government directives will have had some impact on this 

At the end of December 2020, 95,370 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation an increase of 7,060 households in just one year this will again will have been as part of the‘Everyone In’ Government directive put in place due to the Pandemic  

This does reflect positively the huge efforts of local authorities and charities with the ‘Everyone In’ scheme to protect people sleeping rough during the pandemic. We know there is a potential threat of a third wave later this year as the Winter looms it also highlights the acute need for suitable, sustainable accommodation nationally.  We have proved it can be done with the results during lockdown, but we must now work together, not forget and continue with this strength and determination  

The latest official count found a total of 2,688 people were estimated to be sleeping rough on a single November night in autumn 2020 in England, this is down from 4,266 people recorded in 2019.

Figures gathered of people sleeping rough has grown steadily since 2010 when about 1,200 were counted and reported as rough sleeping and living on the streets.

The official rough sleeping figures are often thought to be a considerable underestimate as they rely on single night counts and estimates by local authorities. This entails statutory staff walking out to literally count on one night (this is done in West Berkshire in November) people they find fitting the criteria below:  

“People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as, on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or ‘bashes’)”.

The definition does not include people in hostels or shelters, sofa surfers, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protests, squatters, or Travellers sites.

This makes it clear that figures are not accurate. 

A local authority may choose to do a physical count if there is a high number of people sleeping rough in the area and sleep sites are both visible and easily accessible, particularly in urban areas. Likewise, if there has been a significant change in the number of rough sleepers and there is a lack of evidence about who individuals are, local authorities may undertake a physical count.    

Estimates are not guesses but are intelligence-led and involve bringing together local agencies to agree on a figure of how many people are sleeping rough on the chosen night. Newbury Soup Kitchen sit on meetings locally to help with this. 

As rough sleepers can be transient it is especially useful if there is a disagreement between partner agencies in the area about who is sleeping rough and where they bed down.    

Areas may choose to do an estimate if the local context of rough sleeping makes physically counting impractical (e.g., in large rural areas or areas with rough sleepers in areas that are inaccessible or unsafe to go into).

Some areas in England have much better local intelligence and West Berkshire have that so we are lucky.  We can provide a more accurate picture. It is also possible to undertake a snapshot count on the chosen night, and then use this intelligence with information from local partner agencies including Statutory and charities. This is called an “estimate informed by a snapshot count” but is still officially recorded as an estimate.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the face of homelessness across the UK with councils in England taking in 37,000 into temporary and emergency accommodation in hotels etc to protect them from COVID. Several ex-rough sleepers remain in emergency accommodation across the UK while long-term homes are found buy local authorities. Many however, face returning to the streets, according to Homeless Organisations it is warned that people currently in emergency accommodation will face rough sleeping once more as the ‘Everyone In’ scheme is wound down.

If you see a rough sleeper send details of where and when you see them, as well as a brief description of the person, to Street Link using their website, app or phoneline. Street Link is operated in partnership by Homeless Link and St Mungo’s. Alternatively, if you are local and in West Berkshire this link on our website will give you information on local resources  (information and statistics sourced from Crisis, Big Issue and Homeless Link) 

Written by Meryl Praill Founder of Newbury Soup Kitchen