Thousands of ‘hidden homeless’ falling through cracks in ELL boroughs

Rough sleeping has rise sharply in recent years across the Eastlondonlines boroughs Pic: Isabel Togoh

More than 10,000 “hidden homeless” people across the Eastlondonlines boroughs could be going under the radar and not receiving state support, according to new estimates.

There are an thirteen times more hidden homeless people in London than those recorded as sleeping rough, a new report by the London Assembly Housing Committee has revealed.

The hidden homeless, who may resort to sofa surfing, sleeping rough, squatting or sleeping on public transport, are hidden from official statistics so aren’t receiving support.

There were almost 1,000 rough sleepers recorded in Croydon, Lewisham, Hackney and Tower Hamlets in 2016/17, which means there could have been nearly 13,000 hidden homeless in the boroughs.

Rough sleeping has risen sharply in recent years across the capital, and Croydon, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets have all seen significant increases since 2013/14.

Hidden homeless people are often ineligible for homelessness support, and those that do present often fail to be recognised as vulnerable, despite being in danger.

Young people are more likely to be affected, particularly those who identify as LGBT, as well as those who have experienced domestic violence and abuse.

Even though 225,000 young people in London have stayed in an insecure or unsafe place because they had nowhere safe to call home, only one in five seek help from the council.

Jad Adams, Chair of homeless shelter Croydon Nightwatch: “We have certainly seen an increase in all forms of homelessness, including hidden homelessness, at our meeting point in Croydon.”

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

Sian Berry, Chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee, said: “People sleeping on the streets of our city are just the tip of an iceberg.

“Young people, asylum seekers and people escaping domestic violence can find it hard to get help due to gaps in current policies, and many don’t even try to seek help,” she said.

“So-called sofa surfing is common and people can end up staying with virtual strangers where they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of charity Shelter, said: “With housing benefit frozen and simply not enough affordable homes for people who need them, the situation is getting harder and harder.

“That’s why we need to government to stem this crisis by ending the freeze on housing benefit, and giving Londoners the leg up that they so desperately need,” she said.

The committee’s report urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan to push local authorities to automatically record more detailed information from people presenting at housing options services, to improve understanding of London’s homeless population.

A Croydon Council spokesman said: “Hidden homelessness has always been just as important an issue as rough sleeping, especially in cities like London, so we welcome this report.

“Croydon Council’s Gateway division tackles homelessness through prevention work, from helping families struggling on Universal Credit to supporting people who lose their home through a family breakdown. We help them to rebuild their lives through training programmes, financial planning and advice on benefits,” he said.

Homelessness and domestic violence

The report also called for better support for survivors of domestic abuse, who are often let down by a system tailored towards men, who are more likely to be homeless.

There is a shortfall of accommodation in refuges that offer specialist support and no guarantees that victims of abuse have the right to remain in their homes, if they wish, rather than the perpetrator.

Many local authorities now require those making a homelessness application as a result of domestic violence to provide a police report, even though many victims are often too scared to report their abuse to the police.

Simone had received death threats from her ex-partner, who despite a restraining order had recruited a group of men to stand outside her house harass and intimidate her.

Simone felt unsafe to remain in her property and so moved to sofa surf between two friends’ properties. Because she was too scared to report to the police, her local authority deemed her risk assessment for homeless support as “standard” and so she didn’t meet its criteria for a move.

Simone is currently still sofa surfing with family members. Solace Women’s Aid has spent five months advocating for a move for her with no success. Simone is now sadly disengaging from support from Solace as she feels that nothing is going to change.

The report also found vulnerable people, particularly women, can become exploited in their desperation for a roof over their heads, varying from exchanging unpaid domestic labour for a roof over their heads through to sex.

For example, asylum seeking women who are made destitute were found to be “extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse, with favours expected in exchange for resources such as accommodation”.

Homelessness Reduction Act

The committee’s report called for extra financial support for local authorities, who will soon have increased responsibility to support homeless people not considered to be in priority need.

Berry called for Khan and the government to “rally behind local authorities”, as the new law comes into force in April next year.

Adams said: “We lobbied for and welcomed the Homelessness Reduction Act and we now urge its implementation. What we need is resources to act.”

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at charity Centrepoint, said: “Sufficient central government funding must be provided for local authorities to deliver their new duties, to ensure that the laudable ambitions of the policy are realised for the thousands of people that this report shows are desperately in need of more support.”

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