8,100 people were seen sleeping rough at least once by a homeless outreach team in London in 2016/17, the same number as the previous year. The number of people sleeping rough in London has increased dramatically since 2007, and in 2015/16 was almost three times the number a decade ago in 2006.
Over the period where rough sleeping has risen, the number of new rough sleepers has also risen, from 1,600 in 2007 to 5,100 in 2016/17. There is a high turnover, with 77% of rough sleepers seen sleeping out only once or twice.
Only 15% of people recorded as sleeping rough in London in 2016/17 were women. However, many homeless women are ‘hidden homeless’ (for example they are sofa surfing or being sexually exploited in exchange for shelter) in order to avoid sleeping on the streets (where they also face a very high risk of sexual violence and exploitation).* Even women who are actually sleeping rough are less likely to be recorded than men, as women often feel unsafe accessing male-dominated street homeless services.** Data on rough sleepers therefore probably underestimates the true scale of female homelessness.
10% of people recorded as sleeping rough in London in 2016/17 were under 25. However, recent changes to housing benefit eligibility for under-21s may result in an increase in homeless young people across England.
The increase in the number of people sleeping rough has been most marked among rough sleepers from Central and Eastern European countries. This number has increased from 300 in 2007 to a high of 2,900 in 2015/16. This is likely to be a result of increasing migration from these regions over this period, as well as policy changes such as housing benefit restrictions for European Economic Area (EEA) migrants introduced in 2014.
However, the number of Central and Eastern Europeans sleeping rough fell by 600 people between 2015/16 and 2016/17, from 2,900 to 2,300. This is the first fall in this group in almost a decade. Since February 2017, rough sleeping has been reclassified as an ‘abuse of treaty rights’ for EU and other EEA migrants, meaning that migrants are now liable for detention and deportation if they are found rough sleeping. Even before the change in policy, many London councils were helping the Home Office’s Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams to deport people sleeping rough in 2016. A range of factors, such as the decision to leave the EU, the rise in hate-crime against foreign-born people, and an increase in ICE targeting of people sleeping rough, may all be driving homeless EEA nationals out of London.
* House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee (2016) House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee Homelessness: third report of session 2016–17.
** Mayor of London (2016) Female entrenched rough sleeper project.