In December 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities published the initial findings of their Rough Sleeping Questionnaire.
The questionnaire aimed to better understand those who sleep rough, asking questions of their past and present circumstances to recommend future interventions. The research was carried out between February 2019 to March 2020 and led by the University of Cardiff.
The research found vulnerabilities frequently intersect leading to a person sleeping rough. There was also a high prominence of childhood problems, mental or physical health challenges and sustained rough sleeping. Through the acknowledgment of the significance of these issues, it is hoped that real change can occur within the system to prevent further people sleeping rough.
The evidence of the impact of childhood events on future rough sleeping was clear. 72% of respondents had reported one or more of: time in care as a child, being excluded from school, frequently truanting from school or leaving school before age 16. 26% of respondents had been in social care as a child. Concerningly, 16% of respondents had first slept rough before being 16 years old and 36% had first experienced mental health difficulties before 16. The impact on childhood events can have a big impact on a person’s future.
There were significant findings regarding health and wellbeing. 82% of rough sleepers have a mental health vulnerability and 83% have a physical health need. 15% of respondents were not registered at a GP surgery. Furthermore, 43% reported feeling lonely often or always, and an alarming 70% suffer from depression. For reference, the rate of depression in the UK in 2016 was 3.3 in 100 people (Mind, 2017). Whilst questions were not asked on whether mental or physical health challenges started before or after first sleeping rough, there is a clear correlation between rough sleeping and health conditions.
Experience of domestic violence was also found to be greatly above the national average. Over 1 in 3 of those asked had been the victim of domestic violence. However, when just considering questionnaires answered by women, the figure rises to 2 in 3.
Rough sleeping is can be portrayed as a short-term setback; however, the questionnaire found the opposite. Of those interviewed, 46% had slept rough for more than 30 nights in the previous three months and 6% had never had long term secure accommodation. Over 50% of rough sleepers first slept rough over five years ago. The research team also found that there was a lack of access to homeless accommodation. Furthermore, some participants mentioned not knowing where they could seek help, thus trapping them within the cycle of rough sleeping when help, such as St. Martins, may just be around the corner.
The report is the result of a questionnaire answered by 563 self-identified rough sleepers. These statistics shine a light on the intensity of underlying factors that lead to rough sleeping and hopefully, this report can lead to a significant change in early prevention measures for those who are at risk of sleeping rough.