William Eichler 19 October 2016

Councils tell homeless ‘to sleep rough’

A number of councils have told homeless people ‘to sleep rough’ despite the danger of violent attacks, new research reveals.

A new report by homelessness charity St. Mungo’s has found that 129 rough sleepers died in London since 2010 – an average of one rough sleeper dying every fortnight.

Entitled Nowhere safe to stay: the dangers of sleeping rough, the report highlighted how people who turn to councils for help are often being sent away without support or instructed to sleep rough in order to access services.

St. Mungo’s warned this left them vulnerable to violence, assault, suicide and abuse, and said statutory protections afforded to families with children and very vulnerable adults miss out people who are left to face extreme risk on the streets.

A quarter (10 in 40) of the people interviewed for the report had been the victim of physical assaults while sleeping rough.

One interviewee told the charity: ‘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) of interviewees reported sleeping rough the night after asking the council for help because they were homeless.

One interviewee explained: ‘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%.

In London 8,096 were recorded as sleeping rough during 2015-16 on the CHAIN database

‘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,’ said Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s CEO.

‘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.’

Mr Sinclair also urged MPs to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October, which he described as a ‘once in a generation opportunity.’

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