Homeless people ‘told to sleep rough’ to access services

youth-homeless-bannerCouncils in England have told people to sleep rough in order to access the relevant support, new research from homelessness charity St Mungo’s has revealed.

Shedding light on the dangers of sleeping on the streets for those who experience it on a daily basis, the charity’s report, Nowhere safe to stay: the dangers of sleeping rough, includes descriptions of violence, assault, suicide and abuse.

According to the research, 129 rough sleepers have died in London since 2010, an average of one every fortnight.

It also highlights how people who turn to councils for help are often being sent away without support or even instructed to sleep rough in order to access services.

The report outlines how a gap in the law means that the statutory protections afforded to families with children and very vulnerable adults miss out people who are left to face extreme risk on the streets.

Although no official national data exists, new analysis for this report from a search of press stories found 97 cases of people who died while sleeping rough in England in the past five years – with one in four experiencing a violent death.

The research also highlights that people sleeping rough are at a high risk of being attacked. A quarter (ten in 40) of the St Mungo’s clients interviewed for the report had been the victim of physical assaults while sleeping rough.

One interviewee said: “I’ve been beaten up quite a few times sleeping in doorways, or even in cars, they smash the window in on top of you, spit on you, urinate on you, try and set you on fire. I’ve had all of those things happen to me.”

Three quarters (33 in 40) had slept rough the night after asking the council for help because they were homeless.

Another client who took part in the research said: “We decided to go to the local council and they told us that we had to sleep rough for three nights in a row before they could actually do anything to help us. We just felt complete despair.”

In 2015-16, half of 672 UK nationals who used the London No Second Night Out service for new rough sleepers had asked councils for help in the 12 months before they started sleeping rough.

The number of people sleeping rough in England has doubled over the last five years from 1,768 in 2010 to 3,569 in 2015. Last year alone rough sleeping increased by 30 per cent. In London 8,096 were recorded as sleeping rough during 2015-16 on the CHAIN database.

St Mungo’s took part in a mass lobby this week in support of the Homelessness Reduction Bill which would require councils to do more to prevent and relieve homelessness.

The charity is also calling on the government to urgently bring forward a new strategy to end rough sleeping and ensure that nobody is turned away by their council when they have nowhere safe to stay, no matter where they are in the country.

Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s CEO, said: “It’s impossible not to be shocked by what our report has revealed. Too many people are dying on our streets and too many are living with damaging long term consequences of not having a roof.

“St Mungo’s believes that the system for assisting people who are at risk of sleeping rough in England requires fundamental reform. The funding package announced by the Prime Minister this week is a promising start. We hope it is the first step to a new and coherent national strategy to end rough sleeping.

“Parliament also has a once in a generation opportunity to improve the current homelessness law. I urge MPs to turn up to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October and help persuade the government to back the bill and fully fund the implementation of this new legislation.

“Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010 and continues to rise. Unless further action is taken, more people will experience the dangers of rough sleeping without the support they desperately need.”

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