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Sleeping Rough

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

By Nick Scott, Business Support - Affordable Housing & Homeless, Safe As Houses

In 2018, the Government published the Rough Sleeping Strategy, which saw them set a target of halving rough sleeping in England by 2022 and ending it by 2027. However, what is the difference between rough sleeping and homelessness?

The difference between rough sleeping and homelessness

It is difficult to tell apart rough sleeping from homelessness as rough sleeping is in fact a subcategory of homelessness. The causes are very similar: personal circumstances, ranging from things such as traumatic events, or mental health conditions, to structural factors, such as wider societal and economic issues can lead to homelessness as well as rough sleeping. Therefore, the terms often get used interchangeably which causes confusion, not only when the terms are used in publications and public debate, but also in reporting figures across the UK due to differing definitions.

Whilst these two terms are closely related, they are not synonymous and instead refer to two different circumstances people can find themselves in. To be homeless is defined as staying in temporary accommodation. Thus, individuals would not been seen as ‘rough sleeping’ as they do have a ‘proper roof’ over their heads at night. Whereas to be rough sleeping means to have no access to any form of accommodation whatsoever. Rough sleeping is thus the most visible form of homelessness.

There are other large, but much less visible groups of homeless people that do not have a permanent residence of their own - hidden homeless if you will. These are individuals that, for example stay with their family or friends, do sofa surfing, live in unsuitable housing such as squats, or sleep in ‘beds in sheds’ types of situations. Hidden homelessness like that can go as far as to affect people leaving care, government institutions or services. Many individuals even find themselves in or continue to stay in abusive or violent relationships for fear of rough sleeping (which would be even less safe).

Portraying an accurate representation

Unfortunately, this adds complexity to the accurate recording of homeless and rough sleeper numbers. Also, there can be a crossover and movement between the two groups, as well as people who are at risk of becoming homeless or sleeping rough at any point in time as personal circumstances can always change.

The varying definitions of homelessness vs rough sleeping, the hidden nature of the different forms of homelessness and rough sleeping, on top of the lack of a regulated method for data recording across the UK all contribute to making it extremely hard to get accurate and comparable data to keep track of homelessness in the UK.

Since March 2018, the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) has funded Local Authorities to provide specialist services to help the people who need it most to come off the streets and into secure accommodation. The aim of the initiative is to halve the number of people sleeping rough down from the 4,677 people in 2018. With 90% of local authorities joining the initiative (RSI), 2021 saw a reduction in people sleeping rough, estimated at 2,440 people, which is a reduction of 47.8%.

Moving forward as a collaborative united front

Whilst this is a massive improvement, and we hope these figures are a true representation, we know the recording of data is not standardised. Ultimately, irrespective of how the data is recorded, with the UK ranking as the second of the list of the Richest European Countries of 2022, it’s truly saddening to see the rough sleeping and homeless figures to be so high.

Yet, this is not to take away from the incredible work done by the various charities battling homelessness across the UK, nor from the actions taken during the pandemic with the “Everybody In” initiative. However, still more action is needed to ensure that those who were brought in can progress into long-term sustainable accommodation and receive the necessary care that will allow them to break free from the vicious cycle that is homelessness. This can only be achieved through collaborative work and partnerships.

How is Safe As Houses helping and what role are we playing?

Not only do we have a dedicated and specialised homelessness sector team, comprising Business Development, Procurement, Research & Development, Project Coordinator and Marketing, but we are collaborating with organisations on a number of different levels from national & regional homeless charities to local authorities, and are committed to help fill the vast shortfall in fit-for-purpose, future-proofed and cost-effective homelessness accommodation where it is so desperately needed.


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