London homelessness pressures reaching ‘worst-ever levels’

London Councils has warned that homelessness pressures in the capital are approaching their ‘worst-ever levels’, urging a rethink of national policy if the government is to have ‘any hope’ of meeting its homelessness reduction targets.

Highlighting the highest temporary accommodation figures for 15 years, the organisation says that 62,670 London households are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, with London accounting for two thirds of England’s total temporary accommodation numbers. Furthermore, the figures show that 89,850 London children don’t have a permanent home and are set to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation organised by their local council.

The figures are a stark warning, especially given the unprecedented challenge of sheltering rough sleepers through both coronavirus and winter. The latest estimate suggests there are just over 700 rough sleepers on London’s streets and boroughs are providing emergency accommodation for 2,500. Boroughs and the GLA have provided ‘move on’ accommodation for more than 3,300 former rough sleepers since March.

However, the normal pathway of rough sleeper hostels and winter shelters rely on shared sleeping spaces that are not coronavirus safe. Boroughs are working hard, including with voluntary sector partners, to secure appropriate accommodation that would enable social distancing. For example, several boroughs are converting buildings previously used as care homes into rough sleeper shelters.

London Councils also warns that there is currently inadequate funding for sustaining homelessness services. Analysis by the organisation shows that spending on homelessness and rough sleeping in the capital will rise by an extra £108 million in 2020/21 due to the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic, London boroughs' expenditure on homelessness was expected to rise to a total of £1 billion by 2021/22.

While London Councils supports the government’s aims on reducing homelessness – including its commitment to ending rough sleeping by 2024 – the umbrella group warns that greater investment in local homelessness services is required for overcoming these mounting pressures, as well as changes to welfare policy and support for new social housing.

London Councils is calling on the government to: improve the welfare system’s ability to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place; confirm long-term funding arrangements for sustaining local homelessness services; and boost councils’ resources for building social housing.

Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing & Planning, said: “It’s hugely distressing to see homelessness in London approaching its worst-ever levels. With almost 90,000 children in the capital living in homeless households and set to spend Christmas in temporary accommodation, it’s obvious we can’t go on like this. London faces the most severe crisis in the country but homelessness is a major national challenge and the government must redouble its efforts on getting these numbers down.

“As well as skyrocketing temporary accommodation figures, councils face the nightmare scenario of extreme pressures on rough sleeper services that need to cope both with Covid-19 and cold weather snaps. And this is all taking place against a backdrop of horrendous budget constraints. Boroughs are doing all we can to support homeless Londoners this winter but if there’s be any hope of the government reaching its targets on reducing homelessness we need ministers to rethink their welfare policies, boost funding for frontline services, and prioritise building more affordable homes.”