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Solution out of homelessness

The scale of the housing emergency and our five steps for change to end all forms of homelessness.

What is homelessness?

People are legally defined as homeless when they don’t have access to a suitable and settled home. There are several forms of homelessness:

Living in temporary accommodation

Many people, including families with children, are homeless in insecure, expensive, and often poor quality temporary accommodation.

Temporary accommodation includes hostels and bed and breakfasts where families often have just one cramped room to live in while they wait for access to a home.

Street homelessness

Being homeless can force people to sleep, or spend their days, on the streets. This is often called street homelessness or rough sleeping.

Hidden homelessness

Hidden homelessness includes people who are sofa surfing and families who are severely overcrowded or living in dangerous conditions. Hidden homelessness is likely to be a big problem, but it’s difficult to estimate how widespread it is.

How many people are homeless in England?

309,600 people in total in England are homeless

Almost half of them, 140,000, are children.

279,400 of these people are homeless in temporary accommodation

The number of households stuck in temporary accommodation has almost doubled in the last ten years, and is at an all-time high.

3,069 of the total are estimated to be sleeping rough

This number declined for four years, from 2017 to 2021 - but grew by 26% in 2022.

What the pandemic showed us

Homelessness is not something that's bound to happen. In 2020, the government showed what can be achieved with political will.

As an emergency response to the pandemic, the government took the unprecedented step of asking councils to accommodate everyone who was sleeping on the streets.

This scheme was called Everyone In. Although not perfect, it did help many people into accommodation and proved it is possible to get people off the streets if the political will is there.

Despite this, we believe that the most important thing is still preventing people becoming homeless in the first place.

What people now tell us

In 2023, we published the largest ever piece of research on homelessness in temporary accommodation. The report was steered by people with lived experience and over 1,000 people told us about the impact temporary accommodation had on them and their children.

The same year, we also worked with 75 people with lived experience of the housing emergency, including homelessness, to develop our manifesto for change.

They told us that they want the next government to take action to end homelessness.

Solution out of homelessness

We recommend five steps for change to end all forms of homelessness:

1. Build a new generation of social rented homes

The government must commit funding to build a new generation of at least 90,000 social rented homes per year, for ten years.

2. Make private renting secure and affordable

The government must strengthen and pass the Renters Reform Bill. It must also regulate in-tenancy rent increases, and keep housing benefit adequate, so that both councils and people at risk of homelessness can find affordable rented homes.

3. Improve housing rights and the enforcement of them

The government must introduce a legal right to suitable emergency accommodation and adequate support for everyone at risk of street homelessness. And it should also make sure that people have access to advice, advocacy and support to help enforce their rights to suitable accommodation.

4. Improve standards of temporary accommodation

The government must make sure temporary accommodation is safe, healthy, and well-managed, and that all providers are registered with the Regulator of Social Housing.

5. Provide access to support when homeless and to prevent homelessness

The government must invest in accessible support services, and councils must offer support to all families and individuals who are homeless in temporary accommodation.

Our impact

November 2020: almost 20,000 Shelter supporters sign a petition to get people off the streets during the pandemic. The petition is started by campaigner Rhys who has experience of sleeping on the streets.

Rhys calls on the (then) Homelessness Minister Kelly Tolhurst to discuss the need for clear guidance to councils. Rhys gets a meeting with the minister.

November 2020: the government launches the Protect Programme. It announces £15 million of funding for 10 local authorities.

January 2021: the government announces a further £10 million in Protect Plus funding. Funding is available to all local housing authorities.

May 2021: the government announces £203 million of funding for the Rough Sleeping Initiative. This is to fund 14,500 bed spaces and 2,700 support staff. This is an 81% increase from the £112 million provided the previous year.

December 2021: we hand in our petition signed by over 29,000 Shelter supporters. The petition calls on the prime minister to get everybody off the streets during the winter and ongoing pandemic.

December 2021: the government announces £28 million of funding to protect and vaccinate people sleeping rough.

December 2022: over 9,000 people email the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling on him to take action on homelessness by unfreezing housing benefit and building more social homes.

January 2023: we don’t get a response from the government. So, we deliver the emails to No. 10 Downing Street in person. This action is led by campaigner, Amanda, who has experience of living in temporary accommodation and social housing.

March 2023: we continue to put pressure on the government ahead of the spring budget. We launch our ground-breaking temporary accommodation research in parliament and get nearly 2,000 people to invite their MPs to come along.

August - November 2023: 36,600 Shelter supporters sign Vicky’s open letter to the chancellor and email their MPs. They call on the government to urgently unfreeze housing benefit to stop record levels of homelessness.

November 2023: the chancellor announces in his autumn statement that the government will unfreeze housing benefit from April 2024 to cover the bottom third of local rents. A huge campaign win that will help thousands of people avoid or escape homelessness!

Help us fight for the rights of people facing homelessness 

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Page updated: 6 February 2024