The annual counts and estimates data for rough sleeping in England in 2022 published at the end of February by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is grim reading.

Conducted in November 2022, the count found:

  • 3,069 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in England on any given night.
  • This is a 26% increase compared to 2021, and is the biggest year on year percentage increase in rough sleeping since 2015.
  • Rough sleeping has increased by 74% when compared with the 2010 count, when the methodology was first used.

For the many organisations working in the homeless sector, this comes as no surprise; the impact of the pandemic and cost of living pressures are putting more people at risk of becoming homeless, and organisations such as the Shrewsbury Ark are seeing an increase in people calling on their services.

Impact on health

As well as devastating, dangerous and isolating, people experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness face some of the worst health outcomes.

The homeless charity Crisis states: “the longer someone experiences rough sleeping, the more likely it is they will develop additional mental and physical health needs, substance misuse issues and have contact with the criminal justice system.

Indeed, Office for National Statistics 2021 figures found almost two in five deaths of homeless people in England and Wales were related to drug poisoning and almost 10 per cent of homeless people in England and Wales were alcohol-specific.

Homelessness in Shropshire

Local Government Association research for Shropshire shows in 2022/23 Q2:

  • 326 households were in temporary accommodation
  • 267 households were identified as being owed a prevention or relief duty, of which 176 households were assessed as homeless and 86 as threatened with homelessness
  • Evictions for rent arrears accounted for 75.0% of all eviction

While the data states 16 people were sleeping rough in Shropshire in this time period, local front-facing organisations suggest this figure is closer to 50, and the Shrewsbury Ark regularly has around 50 people coming through its doors each day in need of support.

Collaborating for better health outcomes

A person who has had complex life challenges, or who is in crisis often lacks the skills and knowledge to cope. Unlike a glamourous film or pop star, who has immediate access to support to help them with their substance misuse, many homeless are pre-judged and stigmatised. Furthermore, people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable people are intimidated or do not feel comfortable accessing health and care services through usual routes.

As part of the Rough Sleepers Drug and Alcohol Treatment Grant provided by the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), Shropshire Council has been awarded £1.4m to provide substance misuse treatment and support services for rough sleepers and people at risk of rough sleeping.

Council has used the funds to develop RESET, a multi-agency team (MDT) providing holistic wrap-around support and drug and alcohol treatment for those who are, or at risk of sleeping rough across the county.

As part of this MDT, The Shrewsbury Ark is working with Shropshire Council, With You at Shropshire Recovery Partnership, the Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust, Shropshire Domestic Abuse Service, and Intuitive Thinking Skills.

Based at the Shrewsbury Ark, support includes medical and social prescribing, domestic abuse support, and mental health assistance. Critically, people also learn skills to improve resilience against relapse.

RESET is currently supporting nearly 50 people who are sleeping rough and around 150 people at risk of sleeping rough.  

While the funding will support Shropshire in meeting the intended outcomes of the national drug strategy by helping reduce drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions, and increase the number of successful individuals in treatment, most importantly, by these organisations working together in a place of trust, people in crisis are being given an opportunity to turn their lives around, and find a purpose to live.

Annie Waddington-Feather, Trustee to the Shrewsbury Ark, an award-winning charity providing day centre services to the homeless and vulnerable in Shropshire.

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