The number of people sleeping rough across Britain will increase by three quarters (76 per cent) in the next decade, with an estimated 16,000 Britons homeless by 2026. Christian charities have urged widespread action to prevent the dire predictions becoming a reality.
The news comes from national homeless charity Crisis, whose latest report published today estimates that at any time in 2016 as many as 9,100 people were sleeping rough across the UK.
The charity warned that poverty was the primary cause of homelessness and that current trends would continue if the government's 'current policies continue unchanged'.
The findings, which included research by Heriot-Watt University, found that in 2016 68,300 households were sofa-surfing, 19,300 households were living in unsuitable temporary accommodation and 37,200 household were living in hostels.
The number of households in temporary accommodation is expected to nearly double (growing by 93 per cent) in the next decade.
Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: 'This year Crisis marks its 50<sup>th anniversary, but that's little cause for celebration. We still exist because homelessness still exists, and today's report makes it only too clear that unless we take action as a society, the problem is only going to get worse with every year that passes. That means more people sleeping on our streets, in doorways or bus shelters, on the sofas of friends or family, or getting by in hostels and B&Bs.'
Paul Hackwood, Executive Director of Church Urban Fund, the community social action arm of the Church of England, told Christian Today: 'Across the country, churches and faith-based organisations are working alongside statutory organisations, charities and other partners to respond to levels of street homelessness that are already substantially increased compared to a decade ago.'
Hackwood said that the dire Crisis predictions 'would amount to tremendous hardship for the families and individuals involved. Our Together programme working in local communities provides night shelters and emergency provision which helps to support people who end up on the streets.
'What we need however as a society is an orientation towards the common good, so action needs to be taken to address the causes of homelessness, and to prevent these predictions from becoming a reality.'
New Hope, a Christian homelessness charity based in Watford, England, said the predictions matched its own experience. A spokesperson told Christian Today: 'Since 2012, New Hope has witnessed a consistent rise in the need for its services. The Rough Sleeping Prevention Service, a team dedicated to identifying and providing first-contact support to those who are rough sleeping or sofa surfing, has documented a consistent increase of five to six individuals each year and has more than doubled since 2012. A greater worry, of course, is that there could be many more that have yet to make themselves known to the charity.
'Across the UK, the situation mirrors that of Watford...the total number of people counted as sleeping rough [in the UK] has more than doubled since 2010 and...the average cost of rent across the UK is expected to increase by 25 per cent over the coming years, increasing the potential for further rough sleeping.'
He added: 'New Hope is concerned that if this trend is to continue, the pressure on registered charities such as themselves will increase beyond the point that can be managed and that places within the temporary accommodation will become rare.'
The Crisis report notes that the present tide could be stopped. A 60 per cent increase in new housing could reduce homelessness by 19 per cent by 2036, while increased prevention work could reduce levels by 34 per cent in the same period. The charity's Everybody In campaign calls for a concerted national effort to 'change opinions, raise awareness and ultimately end homelessness for good'.
New Hope added that Christians or concerned citizens could make simple but significant efforts to help.
'It may seem obvious but the accommodation and support provided by homelessness charities comes at a price – financial donations to your local or preferred homelessness charity provides the means to keep their services running and, eventually, to expand their provision,' its spokesperson said.
'It is equally important, however, that our local MPs and councils work together to end the struggle for affordable housing once and for all. Please take the time to speak to your local MPs, of your own party and those of other parties, and express your concerns as it is only together that change can be affected. Finally, please pray. Pray for those in greatest need, and for those who work tirelessly in their local area, pray for change.'