Over the past five years the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England has doubled, whilst in the past year the figure has gone up by a third. Recently released government figures reveal an estimated 3,569 people are sleeping on streets on any one night.
And even though these are national figures, the impact is being felt here in Sefton. Bosco manager, Sheila Howard, said: “Even though we’ve only been running the sit-up service since last July, we’ve noticed a greater uptake of the service recently. Just in the past few weeks our service has been full most nights.”
“This could be because of the recent cold weather, obviously, but it could also be that the service is getting more widely known amongst rough sleepers. You only have to look at the increase in people sleeping on the streets in Liverpool city centre during the day to see this.”
Neil Baynes, Managing Director at New Start, agrees: “We have seen an increase in numbers using our sit-up service in Southport. You would expect more people to turn up in the winter, but there is a general perception that the situation is getting worse.”
This was reflected in the comments of Jon Sparkes, CEO of Crisis. He told The Guardian: “There are practical and immediate measures the government can take to tackle rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness. With the average age of death for rough sleepers being just 47, they must act now.”
Worryingly, it is reported that 40% of rough sleepers in London suffer with mental health problems, and this rises to over half of when taken across the UK as a whole. Most rough sleepers with mental health problems are homeless for longer because they find it harder to access support. In 2014-15, 17 of the 25 people who died while sleeping rough on the streets of London, that were known to services, had mental health needs.
A report by St. Mungo’s, Stop The Scandal, notes that many specialist homelessness mental health teams have closed as a result of funding cuts. On average, local authority funding for services to help vulnerable people avoid homelessness was cut by 45% between 2010 and 2015.
With the Chancellor, George Osborne, threatening to make more cuts in his next budget, it seems things are unlikely to get better any time soon.