5 July 2022

We’re fast approaching the government’s target date to end rough sleeping in England. Will it be met?

As we reach mid-way through 2022, we are also soon approaching the target date for the government to fulfil its commitment to end rough sleeping in England by 2024. It is a very welcome ambition, as anyone who has an inkling of the brutality of rough sleeping would agree. People who sleep rough are almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse compared to the general public. This includes having things thrown at them, being kicked and spat on, and other appalling acts. It was absolutely right that the government committed to ending the “blight of rough sleeping” in this country.

Since the commitment made in 2019, much has changed. We’ve had economic upheaval and are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. We’ve had an all-consuming pandemic. But through this, we’ve also seen glimpses of the national leadership and policy changes that can undoubtedly bring us closer to ending rough sleeping for good. When people’s health was prioritised above all else at the beginning of the pandemic, tens of thousands of people sleeping rough or at risk were helped rapidly into safe accommodation. Support services were mobilised to help people to stay safe, start recovering from the trauma of homelessness, and move towards rebuilding their lives. Truly, at such a terrifying and horrific time, we saw the art of the possible in the recognition that homelessness, and particularly rough sleeping, is a health emergency.

But where does that leave us today? The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ending Homelessness, which Crisis provides the secretariat for, is currently attempting to answer this question in its inquiry into whether the government is on track to end rough sleeping. A significant range of organisations, including the NHF, and people with direct experience of homelessness have answered the call. Though I don’t want to pre-empt the APPG’s conclusion, one submission has struck me in particular. In it, the organisation wrote, ‘people sleeping rough do not appear out of thin air. They have often been through other forms of homelessness and in touch with the system before’.

This for me aptly highlights the challenge now facing the government. While we are still seeing the positive impact of policies and partnerships from the pandemic, with levels of rough sleeping still below those of recent years, the current strategy to end rough sleeping remains focused on discrete, targeted interventions once someone is already sleeping rough. We are still not doing enough to prevent people from becoming homelessness or sleeping rough. We know that often people who sleep rough have experienced other forms of homelessness before, such as sofa-surfing. In fact, analysis for Crisis by Heriot Watt University suggests that we will see a continued flow of people newly sleeping rough in the coming years, with overall numbers set to rise in the period to 2024 without further policy change.

The long-term solution to this is seemingly obvious – homelessness is, by its very name, a lack of a home – yet we continue to see a lack of government leadership and strategy to deliver the genuinely affordable homes we so desperately need if we are to be able to prevent people from living on the streets or in other forms of homelessness. Research from Crisis and the National Housing Federation shows we need at least 90,000 social rent homes built per year to end all forms of homelessness, and we are a far cry from this at current levels.

In parallel with a step change in provision of social renting, we need dedicated investment in housing related support. This should include a funding stream to expand Housing First, a tried and tested solution that enables people facing the most complex disadvantage to sustain tenancies even where they have had long histories of rough sleeping. The emerging scandal of poor quality, unsafe exempt provision shines a light on the consequences of the under provision of affordable housing and tailored support services designed to prevent or support people out of homelessness.

So, is the government going to meet its target to end rough sleeping? For the many people still sleeping rough, and the many more in other forms of hidden homelessness or anxious about the spiralling cost of living, the answer can only be no on the government’s current trajectory. The government has said they will be updating their Rough Sleeping Strategy so that it is ‘bold and ambitious’. To deliver on this, and their commitment to end rough sleeping, delivering genuinely affordable homes and dedicated support funding to end homelessness must be at its heart.

Matt Downie is speaking at the National Housing Summit on 12-13 September at The ICC in Birmingham on the session ‘Homelessness and rough sleeping: are we in danger of losing the progress we have made?’.

Find out more about booking your place here.

Matt Downie

Matt Downie is Chief Executive at Crisis.

Matt Downie has been Chief Executive of Crisis since 1 January 2022.

Previously, he was Crisis’ Director of Policy and External Affairs, a role he held since joining the organisation in 2014. Before that he worked at Action for Children, The National Autistic Society and Shelter.

Will the government's target date to end rough sleeping be met?