photo: A guest prepares his sleeping bag at one of the Glass Door shelters 

28 February 2020

A government report, released yesterday, claims that the number of people rough sleeping in London fell for the first time in six years in autumn 2019. Evidence from Glass Door contradicts these findings. 

A gross underestimate

Lucy Abraham, Chief Operating Officer for Glass Door, said:

These statistics grossly underestimate the true scale of homelessness. We know that many of the borough-coordinated street counts took place after Glass Door and many other charities had opened their shelter doors to rough sleepers for the winter.

Glass Door emergency winter night shelters opened on the first Monday of November for the 2019/2020 season and have provided shelter for up to 170 men and women across west and southwest London on each night.

The data from the government report was gathered via an annual single-night snapshot count or estimate which took place in every borough any time between 1 October and 30 November 2019. The street count for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea took place after Glass Door shelters opened, for example, meaning none of the individuals staying in Glass Door shelters were included.

“These statistics matter because they are used to allocate resources to tackle homelessness in London. If the government is committed to measuring the number of people who need support around their homelessness, they need to recognise those sleeping in emergency winter night shelters,” said Lucy. 

700 individuals stayed in a Glass Door shelter and about 2,200 stayed in other church-based emergency shelters in London last winter.

Lucy added:

Imagine what our communities would look like if all 2,900 people were on the streets instead.

“Individuals affected by homelessness have for too long remained in the shadows. It’s time we counted all rough sleepers, not just the most visible.” 

Conflicting evidence

According to yesterday's rough sleeping statistics released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, there was a 11% decrease in the number of rough sleepers in London in Autumn 2019 compared to the previous year. The report estimates that there were 1,136 people sleeping rough on a single night in London.

Contrary to the government report, the evidence from Glass Door indicates that the number of rough sleepers continues to grow.

In the first 90 days of Glass Door shelters opening this winter, 1,407 individuals turned to Glass Door looking for shelter, compared to 1,138 that turned to Glass Door in the same period last winter, indicating a 24% increase in demand for emergency shelter. The charity has provided shelter to 752 individuals so far this winter.

Last winter, Glass Door experienced a 42% increase in demand for shelter compared to the year before. In response, the charity opened an additional shelter circuit in and around the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Lucy Abraham said:

“Currently, more than 50 people are on our waiting list for shelter. And the accommodation we provide is very basic – simply a sleeping bag and a mat on the floor of a church or community centre.

The high demand for safe shelter shows just how many of us in London are at risk of rough sleeping.

Transparency needed

Glass Door calls for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to conduct the snapshot counts and estimates before emergency shelters open or to be transparent about when they take place.

Lucy said:

We understand that some secrecy can help guard against manipulation beforehand, but we all need to understand if the figures are a true reflection of the scale of rough sleeping.

“There is a dire need for more safe options for those looking to get off the streets in London. Glass Door is one of the only organisations with open-access shelters. This means we offer shelter to those who need it without the need for referrals, proof of a local connection or complicated application forms.”

Several media outlets, including BBC News and the Guardian, featured Glass Door’s response in their coverage.

Read the press coverage