The number of people sleeping rough in London has hit a record high, with homelessness charities warning that the ongoing asylum crisis in Britain has led to an overflow of migrants living on the streets.
New figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) revealed that a record 4,068 people were spotted sleeping rough in the U.K. capital between July and September this year — a 12 percent rise compared with the same period in 2022 and a 24 percent increase over the figure recorded for April to June earlier this year.
Of that figure, 2,086 people spotted (51 percent) told outreach workers they were new to sleeping rough — a 13 percent increase over the same period last year.
The multi-agency database differentiates between the terms rough sleeping and homelessness and includes in its report only those identified as sleeping on the streets. Those it attributes to “hidden homeless groups,” such as squatters and sofa surfers aren’t included in the data.
Homelessness charity Shelter estimated there were 271,000 people with no fixed abode in England at the start of 2023.
There has been a notable rise in foreign nationals sleeping rough, and the number of non-U.K. nationals living on London’s streets now reportedly exceeds those originating from Britain at 52 percent.
This influx of homeless foreign nationals has been blamed on the U.K. government, which has been accused of amending asylum laws to push people out of taxpayer-funded accommodation more quickly and reduce the substantial asylum backlog in the country.
Taxpayers have been paying more than £6 million per day to house those awaiting asylum decisions, many of whom are living in hotels across the country. A change in the law back in August meant that those granted asylum were only required to receive seven days’ notice to find alternative accommodation following the completion of the process, as opposed to 28 days.
Charities claim this has led to a large number of evictions, with classified refugees being forced to sleep rough while they find a new place to live.
“Winter is coming. We need to take immediate action to protect people facing sleeping on the streets and long-term action to reverse this worrying trend in rising rough sleeping,” said Nick Redmore, director of The Salvation Army’s Homelessness Services in response to the new data.
“The pressure of these rising figures is being felt across St Mungo’s, as requests for immigration advice and emergency housing increase,” added Emma Haddad, the homelessness charity’s chief executive.
The U.K. government vowed in a paper released in September 2022 to end rough sleeping for good by 2024. However, this pledge appears to be increasingly unachievable with existing plans.
“Rough sleeping is grueling and dangerous. Yet, today’s figures show that a devastating lack of support combined with crippling rents and high living costs is continuing to push thousands onto the capital’s streets,” said Crisis CEO Matt Downie.
“Make no mistake, the Westminster government’s target of ending rough sleeping by next year is now completely out of reach,” he added.