The ‘Nowhere safe to stay – the dangers of sleeping rough’ report, released yesterday, has shed light on the stark realities of sleeping rough. The accounts from our clients who took part in the research, are without doubt distressing. How many more people have to die before the government acts to end rough sleeping?
Yesterday we launched our new report Nowhere safe to stay – the dangers of sleeping rough. It’s based on 40 interviews with St Mungo’s clients who have slept rough after asking councils for help to avoid homelessness.
I did 16 of these interviews and heard disturbing accounts of physical attacks, mental anguish and rejection by those who could have helped. I found the suffering and cruelty experienced by people sleeping on our streets hard to comprehend.
One client had his face stamped on while asleep, someone tried to stab another in her leg with a needle containing heroin. A stranger asked a client who was sleeping rough if he was okay and then hit him across the face with a bottle, breaking his jaw.
‘Not just violence but also the physical and emotional hardship of sleeping rough’
In a survey of over 200 people sleeping rough in central London, more than a third of respondents, rising to 44 per cent of female respondents, said they have been attacked or beaten up since they started rough sleeping.
One man told me: ‘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 over the years.’
We also looked at press reports on 97 people who had died while sleeping rough across England, a quarter had violent deaths. In the last six years, we know 129 rough sleepers have died in London alone. It’s not just violence, but also the physical and emotional hardship of sleeping rough, which means their average age of death is just 44.
‘Accounts of sleeping rough are distressing’
The accounts of what it’s like to sleep rough are distressing, but so are people’s accounts of asking their council’s housing options service for help. 33 out of 40 people we interviewed slept rough the night after asking the council for help because they were homeless. In some cases they were told to sleep rough in order to access support.
“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.”
This can’t be right.
‘We need a new strategy to end sleeping rough’
The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help. If passed into law, it would require councils to do more to prevent and relieve homelessness for everyone who asks for help, while maintaining existing protections for homeless families with children and very vulnerable adults.
The Bill is making its way through Parliament, but will fail unless 100 MPs turn up to debate it on 28 October. You can ask your MP to attend the debate and back the Bill by joining our campaign.
Bob Blackman MP is leading the Homelessness Reduction Bill through Parliament and it already has the support of the cross-party Communities and Local Government Select Committee.
Now every other MP and government ministers must also get behind the Bill.
At the start of this week the Prime Minister announced a £40m homelessness prevention programme. In light of our research and the rising number of people sleeping rough this is extremely welcome, but the PM also needs to recognise the need for a fundamental reform of the system for assisting people at risk of sleeping rough.
Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010. How much longer will it be before government decides that this can’t go on?
Please ask your MP to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill on 28 October 2016. Email your MP