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Rural rough sleeping is on the rise

Rural rough sleeping is on the rise

Rural rough sleeping is on the rise

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charlotte Snelling, Research Fellow at the IPPR, writes about the rise in rural rough sleeping.

England is witnessing increasing rates of homelessness, as welfare reforms push more households into poverty. Significant shortages of affordable housing, of all types of home, makes it difficult to access – and sustain – a place to live. With growing numbers of people living in private rented accommodation, and the relative absence of tenant security – given the dominance of assured shorthold tenancies – the possibility of being made homeless at short notice is a reality for many.

What has often been overlooked until now is these issues are not unique to our towns and cities. New research by the IPPR finds that in our rural communities, rough sleeping is on the rise. In mostly (80% population living in a rural setting) and largely (50-79% population living in a rural setting) rural areas, rates of rough sleeping have increased by 32% and 52% between 2010 and 2016, rising to a total of 565 identifiable rough sleepers. And these are just the rough sleepers whom we can see.

We know that in both urban and rural settings, many cases of homelessness are hidden – in part, because some households find alternative forms of temporary accommodation (e.g. sofa surfing or staying with relatives), but also because current forms of monitoring rely almost entirely on headcount data, a snapshot of an area at a given point or period in time. In rural areas, this can be particularly challenging where rough sleeping is rarely evident in village centres. Instead, homeless individuals can seek shelter in tents, abandoned outhouses, barns and cars parked up on quiet country roads. This makes identifying them, recording them, and – crucially – delivering support services for them, incredibly difficult.

In London, the CHAIN database – which offers a more comprehensive method for counting numbers of rough sleepers based on data-sharing across multiple agencies – has shown that the capital’s rough sleeping population is likely to be much higher than official figures suggest. While the dispersed nature of many rural areas and larger travel distances, and the increasing strain on local government finances, mean that it will be difficult to replicate this model in full, there are important lessons to be learnt. IPPR recommends rural areas start to develop rural homelessness forums, which would allow a range of local services and community organisations to come together regularly, share data and build a more detailed picture of the scale and nature of homelessness in their areas.

Patterns of movement are anticipated to see some individuals moving from rural to urban areas in search of accommodation, employment, and services. If these people become homeless, it can have implications for the resources and outreach demands in our major cities. It is therefore also vital that more information is collected about individuals during this process, across all local authority areas, which should include identifying their ‘home’ area. This should not be considered a way to personally identify individuals who are seeking refuge, nor to reject a duty of care, but to help understand patterns of homelessness and identify where preventative interventions are needed, and the extent of rural to urban migration.

Tackling homelessness requires us to know what’s happening and where, and for this we need urban and rural areas to work together, to share expertise, and to collect data about their rough sleeping populations, to support each other in relieving the homelessness challenges they face.

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