London Assembly calls for more action on ‘hidden homelessness’

by Dave Hill

Around 12,500 people endure “hidden homelessness” every night in London, according to estimates in a new report by the London Assembly’s housing committee, a figure 13 times the size of the number sleeping rough.

Young people, particularly those who identify as LGBT, are the group most likely to be affected, according to the report, with individuals ineligible for homelessness support and fleeing domestic violence also at high risk.

The report says that “sofa surfing”, where people sleep temporarily in the homes of friends or acquaintances, is said to have been resorted to by one in five London 16 to 25-year-olds during 2014. Of these, roughly half did so for more than a month. It also states that in the region of one in ten people in London will experience hidden homelessness in any one year.

The figures are compiled from a range of national and other survey material and informed by expert testimonies, including from homelessness organisations, Stonewall, Solace Women’s Aid and London housing officers.

The report uses a “working definition” of hidden homelessness, for which there is no official one, as including those who have no right or safe option to a “fixed place” to live, are receiving no formal or specialist support, are not living with a parent or guardian and lack the money to get out of their homeless circumstances. It notes that the hidden homeless “frequently don’t identify themselves as being homeless”, and therefore don’t seek the help available.

An “increasing number” of victims of domestic violence are finding it difficult to get accepted as homeless by local authorities, the committee heard, in some cases because a police report or risk assessment is asked for and many cannot provide one because they were afraid to go to the police in the first place. The organisation Women for Refugee Women said that asylum-seeking women made destitute are “extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse” as a result of their predicament, with “favours expected” in exchange for accommodation.

The committee, comprising three Labour AMs, two Conservatives, one from UKIP and its chair, Sîan Berry of the Green Party, make seven recommendations, including that London Mayor Sadiq Khan should lobby London’s 33 local authorities to “create better understanding of London’s homeless population”, create “best practice” guidelines for all agencies with particular reference to LGBT and young people, and promote the use of existing homelessness services.

They also ask for more action from national government, including re-writing “the guidance around evidence required to reach an assessment of ‘vulnerability’ for those who have experienced domestic violence and abuse” and keeping under review its funding for implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which the report says “looks set to improve the situation, perhaps drastically” at least potentially.

Shelter’s new chief executive, Polly Neate, has praised the report, saying it “reveals the the tragedy of rising and persistent homelessness in London for tens of thousands of people, many of them young and vulnerable to abuse” and urging national government to “stem this crisis by ending the freeze on housing benefit and giving Londoners the leg up that they so desperately need”.

Read the housing committee’s Hidden Homelessness report here.

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