HOMELESSNESS charity St Mungo’s revealed yesterday that 129 rough sleepers died in London since 2010 – an average of one a fortnight – while some people, shockingly, were told by councils to sleep rough to access support.
The charity’s report, Nowhere safe to stay: the dangers of sleeping rough, sheds light on the dangers of sleeping on the streets for those who experience it on a daily basis, including violence, assault, suicide and abuse.
It highlights how people who turn to councils for help are often being sent away without support or even instructed to sleep rough in order to access services. The report highlights how a gap in the law means that the statutory protections afforded to families with children and very vulnerable adults miss out other people who are left to face extreme risk on the streets.
Although no official national data exists, new analysis for this report from a search of press stories found 97 cases of people who died while sleeping rough in England in the past five years – with one in four experiencing a violent death.
The research also highlights that people sleeping rough are at a high risk of being attacked. A quarter (ten in 40) of St Mungo’s clients interviewed for the report had been a victim of physical assaults while sleeping rough.
One said: ‘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) slept rough the night after asking the council for help because they were homeless. Another client said: ‘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.
Howard Sinclair, St Mungo’s CEO, said: ‘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.
‘St Mungo’s believes that the system for assisting people who are at risk of sleeping rough in England requires fundamental reform… Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010 and continues to rise. Unless further action is taken, more people will experience the dangers of rough sleeping without the support they desperately need.’