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Report: More hidden homeless than people sleeping rough in London

Words: Laura Edgar
Hidden homelessness / iStock-158571287

The number of hidden homeless people in London has been estimated as being 13 times more than those sleeping rough, according to a report from the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Hidden homeless people do not have a place to call home, but are hidden from official statistics and do not receive support.

There could be 12,500 hidden homeless people each night.

They may experience sleeping on people’s sofas, squatting and sleeping on public transport, as well as sleeping rough. This, said the GLA, can be dangerous, leaving people at risk of assault or abuse.

The report suggests that 225,000 young people have stayed in an unsafe place because they had nowhere safe to call home.

Young people are most likely to be affected, states Hidden Homelessness in London, particularly those who identify as LGBT or have experienced domestic violence and abuse.

“Two-thirds of LGBT homeless youth reported parental rejection as one of the top reasons for their homelessness,” it notes, with young LGBT people making up a quarter of youth homelessness.

On sofa surfing, the report discusses evidence received by the GLA, stating that although staying with close friends can be a “positive experience”, many people reported “feeling like a burden on those who host them”, and moving frequently to avoid outstaying their welcome. People said they have stayed with strangers and friends of friends, “who may as well be strangers”.

“Many of those forced to ‘sofa surf’ report poor mental health as a result of their often nomadic experiences and the energy they expend trying to find accommodation each night.”

Hidden Homelessness in London contains a number of recommendations.

  • The government should recognise the acute nature of homelessness in London and keep under review the funding to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act for London local authorities to ensure that boroughs have sufficient resources to relieve and prevent homelessness.
  • The mayor should review the assessment of ‘vulnerability’, and advice given to non-priority need applicants across London to create best practice guidelines for local authorities and homelessness charities. This should make particular reference to young and LGBT persons, as well as supporting vulnerable people. He should add this to the agenda for his No Nights Sleeping Rough Task Force.
  • The government should ensure that future legislation on domestic violence and abuse gives survivors of domestic violence and abuse priority in tenancy law, meaning that survivors are able to remain in their homes following an incident of abuse, if they wish, rather than the perpetrator.

Sian Berry AM, chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee said: “People sleeping on the streets of our city are just the tip of an iceberg. The London Assembly Housing Committee investigation found a much wider problem of hidden homeless people in London who have no permanent home and live precariously.”

She said young people, asylum seekers and people escaping domestic violence can find it hard to get help because of gaps in current policies, and many don’t even try to seek help.

“With the Homelessness Reduction Act coming soon, the Housing Committee wants to see more action on this problem. We need the mayor and the government to rally behind local authorities with support to reach every Londoner who needs help.”

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said that to have so many people homeless in 2017 is “quite simply a national disgrace” and something that must be acted on now.

“History tells us that we can significantly reduce homelessness, but it will take a cross-departmental commitment from government and a strategic approach to tackle all of its causes. It is also very clear that local authorities across the capital, and the country, will need support to deliver the new duties imposed upon them by the Homelessness Reduction Act.”

Hidden Homelessness in London can be found on the GLA website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock