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Report calls for action on rise of rural homelessness

'Hidden homeless' are sleeping in barns, tents and fields

Mark Gould

Monday, 10 July 2017

A 'hidden crisis" of rural homelessness is spiralling due to a lack of research into social conditions in countryside areas and an abiding misapprehension that homelessness is an urban problem, according to a new study.*

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that village life can mask significant experiences of inequality and deprivation. Its report found homeless people sleeping in barns, tents and fields.

It concedes that homelessness across England is on the rise and that rates are already high and rising in urban areas, but the same problems are being encountered by people in rural areas. The study found:

  • In 2015/16, 6,270 households were accepted as homeless in England’s 91 mainly and largely rural local authorities (LAs).
  • In 16 of these predominantly rural LAs, at least two in every 1,000 households was accepted as homeless.
  • In 2015/16, mainly and largely rural areas in England reported making 12,977 decisions on homelessness approaches – 11% of local authority decisions, nationally.
  • From 2010 to 2016, mainly rural local authorities recorded a rise from 191 to 252 rough sleepers – an increase of 32%. In largely rural areas, there has been a leap of 52%.

The IPPR says the peculiarities of rural areas can make delivering services to prevent and relieve homelessness particularly difficult. The report says the problem can be addressed by making sure rural housing markets work for their resident populations by providing affordable accommodation across a range of tenures and types of home.

The research also identifies a number of initiatives that could be pursued to help homeless people now, ranging from new rural-specific homelessness strategies to new models of partnership working, from improved monitoring and reporting to community-based service delivery options.

IPPR research fellow Charlotte Snelling said a lack of research on the topic prompted them to see whether homelessness actually was a problem. “There is nothing really out there about it,” she said. “It isn’t really talked about and it’s not very visible. But we found that even though you don’t actually see it in the same way as homelessness in cities, it is actually quite prevalent.

“In cities, you see people sleeping in shop doorways and you don’t see that so much in rural areas as there are alternatives which are off the beaten track such as tents in wooded areas and outhouses.”

Preventing and relieving homelessness can be especially difficult in rural areas, Snelling said, because of a relative absence of emergency hostels and temporary accommodation, large travel distances with limited public transport, isolated and dispersed communities, and constrained resourcing for specialist services.

She said: “Rural homelessness often goes undetected but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and unless you tackle the difficulties in delivering services in rural areas and finding affordable homes, it will continue to be a problem.”

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at homelessness charity Crisis, said rough sleeping is continuing to rise at an appalling rate. He said: “As this report shows, out of sight of the official statistics, many more people are struggling in hidden situations, sleeping in doorways, cars, tents or barns – basically anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements.

“Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on their mental and physical health. Tragically, the average age of death for a homeless person is just 47 and they are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence. This is no way for anyone to live.

“There’s no time to waste. We need concerted national action to end rough sleeping once and for all, wherever it happens.”

* Snelling C. Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities. Institute for Public Policy Research, July 2017

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