Call for action as number of vacant properties hits all time high yet homeless numbers soar

Caritas Westminster and the Central London Catholic Churches projects for the homeless are among those calling for urgent action

Jo Siedlecka – Independent Catholic News

There has been a dramatic increase in homelessness in England in the past year. At the same time, latest data shows there has been a huge rise in the number of empty properties. Campaign group Action on Empty Homes estimate that the proportion of long-term empty homes – vacant for six months or more – hit a record 248,633 in 2022, over 11,000 more than the previous year.

BBC Report – Most Empty Homes in London since 2010

In London, some 34,327 properties are described as “long-term vacant”, meaning that they had not been lived in for more than six months and were “substantially unfurnished”, as of March 31, 2022.

Between April and September 2022, 5,712 people were sleeping rough in London, a 21% increase compared to previous year – Shelter reports.

The number of individuals sleeping rough across the country is 74% higher than it was in 2010, when the data started being collected. These figures are likely to be an underestimate of rough sleeping, as people spending the night in less visible locations like parks and buses are often missed.

During the ‘Everyone In’ scheme during the Covid pandemic, nearly all rough sleepers in towns and cities across the country were brought from the cold and housed in hotels and hostels. But very few were offered permanent accommodation. Once the pandemic ended, people were forced back on the streets.

While the number of single people sleeping rough continues to grow, many more families are also struggling to find accommodation. The government’s latest statutory homelessness figures, which show the number of households who approached their local council between July and September 2022 and were found to be homeless or at risk of homelessness within the next eight weeks, reveal:

– 72,320 households in England became homeless or were at imminent risk of becoming homeless – a 4% annual rise on the same period last year.

– In the same period, 25,570 families with children faced homelessness – an 8% annual rise on the same period last year. Many of these families will end up in unstable and poor-quality temporary accommodation, including hostels and B&Bs.

Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Parish Priest at Farm Street Church, Mayfair, and Chair of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, told ICN: “These staggering statistics are not just extremely worrying but should be a wake-up call to those who can make a difference to work with charitable agencies and faith groups more closely to address the housing crisis in the capital.

“Our volunteers are seeing every day how the issue of ‘homelessness’ is not just more serious than ever but more complex than traditional rough sleeping and we need to realise that.

“Appalling housing conditions, sofa surfing, living on and off of night buses is a daily reality and it is getting worse. Surely this outrageous revelation of the amount of empty property in London represents an opportunity to do something about this.

“But it is not the only solution of course. Affordable housing, community integration and above all treating those in desperate need more humanely must be at the heart of policy decisions both locally and nationally.”

BBC Report – Most Empty Homes in London since 2010