Much of my time over the last 6 months has been taken up with the excitement and anticipation of moving house. Earlier in the year we found the house of our dreams and put ours on the market, accepting an offer from a cash buyer less than a week later. The summer has been spent packing boxes and preparing the children for the move to a new school. Today, less than a week before we had been due to complete, our buyer pulled out of the sale. To say we are disappointed is an understatement but looking on the bright side we still have a beautiful home and a secure roof over our heads. The same cannot be said for the thousands of people currently recorded as sleeping rough across the UK.
The most recent official figures for the number of rough sleepers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show that 4,677 people were found sleeping rough in England on a single night in autumn 2018. This is up by 2,909 (165%) from the autumn 2010 total of 1,768. London accounted for 27% of the total figure for England and across the 293 local authorities in the rest of England, 46% reported an increase since 2017. For the purpose of this this research rough sleeping was defined as “People sleeping, about to bed down (sitting on/in or standing next to their bedding) or actually bedded down in the open air (such as on the streets, in tents, doorways, parks, bus shelters or encampments). People in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as stairwells, barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats, stations, or “bashes” which are makeshift shelters, often comprised of cardboard boxes).” The definition did not include people in hostels or shelters, people in campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes or organised protest, squatters or travellers.
Looking at the latest figures for North East England, there were only 51 rough sleepers identified in 2017 and of those 8 were in my home Borough of Gateshead. In my experience the figure of 8 massively underestimates the level of rough sleeping I witness on a daily basis. I would conclude from this that the government’s estimate of 4,677 rough sleepers across England as a whole also hugely underplays the problem.
Rough sleeping is not an easy problem to solve, partly as a result of the wide range of contributing factors which include drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems. However in this day and age surely we can do more to help the people affected by these issues? In August 2018, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire MP, unveiled a Rough Sleeping Strategy, which set out the government’s commitment to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027. Ending rough sleeping starts with secure and affordable housing and historically we have not delivered enough homes resulting in a broken housing market. As planners, this is something we all have the opportunity to work hard to address. In March 2019 Brokenshire announced that Councils across the country were to share over £46 million to help get people off the streets and into accommodation. The money will be used to fund rough sleeping coordinator roles, add new or additional outreach services and extend existing or provide new temporary accommodation, including night shelters and hostel spaces. Whilst this will provide some help to the areas suffering from the highest levels of rough sleeping, action is still needed to address the wider shortage of affordable housing for the most disadvantaged members of society.
In recent weeks I have been doing my best to help a homeless man who ‘ rough sleeps’ just a short distance from my home. Through my chats with this gentleman I have learned just how easy it is for anyone to end up in this situation and how this can very quickly lead to severe and long lasting health problems as well as social exclusion. The Office of National Statistics has recently published the first “experimental statistics” on the number of deaths of homeless people in England and Wales. This estimates 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2017, a 24 % increase over the last five years. The mean age at death of homeless people was 44 years for men, 42 years for women and 44 years for all persons between 2013 and 2017; in comparison, in the general population of England and Wales in 2017, the mean age at death was 76 years for men and 81 years for women. Over half of all 2017 deaths of homeless people were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide. In this context it is clear that more needs to be done to help the most vulnerable people in our society.
On 18th November 2019 I will be supporting CEO Sleepout, a charity set up to fight homelessness and poverty, by arranging for people to sleep outdoors for one night to raise awareness and sponsorship from their business contacts and friends. I will be spending the night sleeping rough in Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland. Through this event I am hoping to raise both awareness and money to help the homeless in my local area and would be so grateful for your support via the following link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/justine-matchett1.
Please give what you can and help me support rough sleepers off the streets and into secure accommodation where they can get the help they need to rebuild their lives. If you can’t donate then there are still things you can do to help. Loneliness is a major issue for many rough sleepers and taking a few minutes to chat with someone costs you nothing and can make a big difference to their feeling of isolation and social exclusion.