One night between lockdowns, after a rare excursion out of the borough, I return to Brixton by tube. It’s nearly midnight. A ghost town. Don’t think I’ve ever seen the high street so empty except, perhaps, at four in the morning. There’s a chill in the air, after all it’s October. A fine drizzle clings to my clothes, the pavements gleam. A few people scurry past heads down. Buses pull in, pull away, hardly anyone gets on and off.
Outside Iceland a frail looking woman, maybe in her 50’s, stands still like a statue; a hat at her feet, shoulders hunched, head slightly tilted, eyes closed, hands in the prayer position. Near Boots a young woman, buzzes past in a hoody; pale, drawn, unkempt. I’d met her 18 months before when she told me she was out on a pass from the Maudsley mental health hospital. She doesn’t notice me, seems as wired as she was then. Outside H&M there’s a guy with one leg in a wheelchair; hood up, head nodding forward, hands in his lap, sleeping. Here in the rain.
What, I wonder, happened to Everyone In? It’s reported it was quietly wound up in May, indignantly disputed by the government. Yet since November charities have been calling for its reinstatement. For vulnerable people like these with complex needs, accommodation is only the beginning of their healing.
Just how successful was Everyone In? Those who benefited speak highly of it, for some it was life changing. An undated report from the London Assembly entitled, COVID-19 response for people sleeping rough: What has the Mayor done so far? states, “Almost 1,700 rough sleepers have been accommodated in hotels arranged by the GLA and supported by rough sleeping charities since March… So far, over 600 people have positively moved on from the hotels with the help of charity workers.”
After witnessing this scene I couldn’t help wonder how many fell through the cracks? Hard to tell. It’s notoriously difficult to know the exact numbers of rough sleepers. It’s a shifting picture with reporting subject to delays as often the data is complex and detailed. I don’t want to reduce this to numbers as every one of these people is someone, perhaps with complex needs, also with desires, dreams and potential, though it helps to have some idea of a baseline.
On 27th February 2020, a month prior to the first lockdown, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government released figures for rough sleeping across England in 2019. These figures aim to provide a ‘snapshot’ of the number of people who sleep rough via a count on a single ‘typical’ night between 1st October and 30th November each year. The figures suggested 4266 people in England were experiencing homeless, 1136 of them in London, indicating a 9% drop in rough sleeping from 2019.
Accordingly to the multi-agency database funded by City Hall, the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), which is generally considered a more reliable source, 10 726 people were seen rough sleeping by outreach workers throughout the year in London between April 2019 and March 2020, representing a record high and a 21% annual increase.
Confused? So was I. There appears to be an enormous disconnect between the figures the government is working with and those gathered by outreach workers, homeless charities and City Hall. The government figures drew controversy and they were forced to respond. I decided to take a deep dive into the quarterly CHAIN reports.
In the quarter April to June 2020 CHAIN reported a 33% decrease in the numbers of rough sleepers compared with the same quarter in 2019 and a 30% drop compared to the preceding quarter, January to March 2020. In the next two quarters the figures began to rise again but still remained below the corresponding quarters, pre-pandemic last year. Suggests to me, whatever the baseline, Everyone In was working, to some extent.
Those I witnessed that night in October may not have been rough sleeping but likely to be homeless, while 431 people were found to be sleeping rough on the streets of Lambeth by CHAIN in 2018/2020.
The launch of Everyone In was ambitious and compassionate. The old saying goes, “If it’s working don’t fix it.” I say, if it’s working don’t scrap it and why at this time when COVID-19 cases and deaths far exceed those at the peek of the March to May 2020 lockdown has it not been reinstated? I’d say, bring it back better.
You can find more of Anne’s fantastic reporting on her blog ‘Seed and Fuses’ https://seedandfuses.wordpress.com/blog/