Government figures show that the number of people seen sleeping rough in London jumped 37% in autumn 2014 compared with autumn 2013. 742 people were counted or estimated during the annual street count; 543 were counted the previous year.
This number is volatile — the change between 2012 and 2013 was a drop of 3%, whereas the previous rise of 25% between 2011 and 2012 can be partially explained by a change in street team practices. Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo's Broadway which compiles the London stats, said:
"It’s important that we look below the surface of these snapshot figures. We know that the annual street counts can often be an estimate and fluctuate throughout the year, and with more workers out on the streets, more people are being found. The street counts provide a useful headline but more detailed analysis in London... shows that at least a proportion of the rise is driven by an increase in rough sleeping among non-UK nationals, in particular Eastern Europe."
46% of rough sleepers seen in London during 2013-14 were UK nationals, and 31% were from central and eastern European countries. Petra Salva, director of No Second Night Out, the Mayor's programme to get people off the streets and into help as quickly as possible, told us something similar in 2013. "Some of the central and eastern Europeans weren’t prepared for the realities of living here," she said. "The competitiveness of the market, the language barrier, cultural differences, the regulatory requirements of working." It's not exactly scientific, but we chatted to four rough sleepers around Victoria on Saturday night; two were from CEE countries, intelligent, articulate and — as Eammon from Southwark council's outreach team told us recently — relatively easy to help, because they're ready for work.
Eammon also left us with a prediction when we spoke to him last summer, that the impact of benefits changes and caps were still to be fully felt. Crisis is firmly laying the rough sleeping increase at the door of the government. Jon Sparkes, the charity's Chief Executive, said:
"These figures show that the law is badly failing people facing homelessness. Welfare reform, benefit cuts and a chronic shortage of affordable homes mean more and more people are coming to their council as homeless. But as the law stands, far too often when single people ask for help, they are turned away to sleep on the street."
Howard Sinclair concurs, adding, "this trend, which has been apparent over the past decade, is particularly concerning as many of the traditional routes off the streets are not available to people who may have limited entitlement to welfare benefits. Further tightening of entitlement could exacerbate this."