Spiralling rough sleeping in Devon may represent a bigger problem

An image of rough sleeping
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Rough sleeping in one city in Devon has doubled in the space of a year, according to a local charity. However, the news may represent the wider picture across the UK. St Petrock’s is a charity in Exeter which has reported the increase. Its boss said the current cost of living crisis is probably causing the spiralling number of rough sleepers.

Exeter: rough sleeping doubled

St Petrock’s supports homeless people, rough sleepers, and those it calls “vulnerably housed”. As Devon Live reported, two weeks ago St Petrock’s did a count of the number of rough sleepers in Exeter. It found that the number has doubled since last year: from 14 to 30. The figures come against a backdrop of Devon having lower rates of poverty than other places in the UK. However, there are still pockets of extreme deprivation and a growing life expectancy gap.

The director of St Petrock’s is Peter Stephenson. He told Devon Live that:

Rough sleeping numbers had been going down steadily in the last couple of years and the pandemic helped as the government brought everyone in off the street and not everyone went back to the streets again. But sadly it seems to be going the other way again.

Stephenson wouldn’t commit to a definite cause of an increase in Exeter’s rough sleeper population. But he did tell Devon Live that:

I think it’s to do with the cost of living crisis. One thing we have never had at St Petrock’s before, but have been for the last three months, is members of the public calling us saying they have tried everyone else to get help and are worried about losing their home and can’t pay for food and rent.

However, the situation in Exeter may be a microcosm of the national picture.

Read on...

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A national crisis that’s getting worse?

As the Big Issue reported:

the latest official count estimated a total of 2,440 people were sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2021 in England.

This was down 10% on 2020. However, the Big Issue warned that:

the number of people sleeping rough has grown steadily since 2010 and despite four consecutive years of falling numbers there, the current figures are 38 per cent higher in 2022 than they were 12 years ago.

And the official rough sleeping figures are often thought to be a considerable underestimate as they rely on single-night counts and estimates by local authorities.

Tory government: unconcerned and unprepared

In reality, there are at least 8,239 rough sleepers a year in London alone – and again this figure may be an underestimate. Mayor Sadiq Khan has already warned the cost of living crisis may make things worse. This is already being seen in the quarterly rough sleeper figures, with a 10% increase between January-March and April-June this year.

With the cost of living crisis set to get worse, the picture in Exeter and London is likely to be replicated nationally. And so far, the government is probably both unprepared and unconcerned.

Featured image via Newtown Graffiti – Flickr, resized to 770×403 pixels under licence CC BY 2.0

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