SCROOGE wouldn’t bat an eyelid to learn that over 24,000 people will be sleeping rough or on public transport this Christmas, but homelessness charity Crisis hopes the figure will provoke the public’s good will to their fellow humanity.
In new research it has commissioned from Heriot-Watt University, the charity claims that some 12,300 people are currently sleeping rough on the streets, while nearly 12,000 more are spending their nights in cars, trains, buses or tents.
“Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. “While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold.
“This situation simply cannot continue. While the Scottish government has taken the first step in announcing a plan to eradicate homelessness, full implementation cannot come soon enough. Meanwhile, the governments in England and Wales must step up urgently with their own plans to end this crisis.”
The number of people sleeping rough in England is more than double what government statistics suggest, the charity claim, since they are based solely on local authority estimates using local information or a physical count on one given night.
Crisis and Heriot-Watt’s research is said to complete the picture by collating the government figures with other crucial sources of data. These include academic studies, statutory statistics, and data from other support services that record people’s experiences of sleeping rough, which aren’t captured in the government’s count.
According to its analysis, between 2012 and 2017, the numbers have soared by 120% in England and 63% in Wales. Numbers in Scotland fell by 6% over the same period.
People sleeping without a roof over their head are constantly exposed to dangers, including extreme temperatures – but also to abuse. Homeless people are almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to be verbally abused, compared to the general public, according to previous Crisis research.
A recent poll for the charity by YouGov showed that the majority of Brits (61%) feel angry, upset, or frustrated about the state of homelessness across the country, and feel the government should do more to tackle the crisis.
Crisis is urging governments across the country to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping, including by strengthening the welfare system and making sure that every homeless person has access to mainstream housing as quickly as possible.
While the underlying causes of homelessness can only be tackled by policy changes, the charity is asking members of the public who want to help to do so in several ways. Most importantly, it says, if you see someone sleeping rough, contact Streetlink (in England & Wales), or the local council in Scotland, to connect that person with the homelessness services in their area. If you have immediate concerns about their welfare, the charity advises you should call 999.
The charity is also asking for help to help raise funds for its year-round services and its Christmas centres, which provide shelter, warm meals, and vital services to thousands of homeless people over the holidays. The centres also provide medical, housing, and other advisory services as well as introducing people to our year-round support, which helps people to rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind for good.
Sparkes added: “We know homelessness can be ended. Earlier this year we set out the exact government policies that would end homelessness across Britain. Our research shows that, with these policies in place, homelessness could be ended in just 10 years.
“In the meantime, we’re asking members of the public who want to help to support our work this Christmas and year-round – so we can be there for everyone who needs us and give people in the most vulnerable circumstances support to leave homelessness behind for good.”