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Government urged to act as thousands prepare to spend Christmas on the streets



More than 24,000 people in Britain will be sleeping rough or in cars, trains or tents over Christmas, according to new figures.

Research commissioned by the charity Crisis shows that the number of homeless people has risen sharply in England and Wales between 2012 and 2017.

It has gone up by 120% in England and 63% in Wales, compared to a fall of 6% in Scotland, and charities have blamed welfare cuts and a lack of affordable homes for the rising figures.

Homeless people are thought to be at far greater risk of violence and with extremely cold weather on the way, many could be at risk of hypothermia.

Charities including Crisis and Shelter are calling for more action from the government and the public

Thousands of people across the UK rely on shelters for food and a place to sleep
Thousands of people across the UK rely on shelters for food and a place to sleep

At a homeless shelter in Ilford, Parminder Jeet is one of 28 people to have secured a bed for the night.

She has been homeless for two years and told Sky News there is still a real stigma when it comes to how people treat those living on the streets.

“Some people do look down at you, but what can we do,” she said.

“It’s not a situation that we all get ourselves into, but things happen in life and we do get there.

“It’s not too bad in the summer, but in the winter it’s rough out there.

“The cold and trying to keep warm, and I get really ill.”

Parminder Jeet has been without a home for two years
Parminder Jeet has been without a home for two years

Bupinder Singh is also safe at the shelter for the night.

He lost his job eight years ago since then has been living on the street, having struggled to find employment because of a heart condition.

He told Sky News: “I feel like I have no choice but to live on the street. I feel like no one cares.

“I can’t just beg for someone to take me in.”

Shelters like this one in Ilford are in high demand
Shelters like this one in Ilford are in high demand

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but.

“While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold.”

The charity claims that the number of people sleeping rough in England is more than double what government statistics suggest.

It said its study pulled together a range of sources, including data from support services that record people’s experiences of sleeping rough, which – according to the researchers – is not included in the government’s count.

Heather Wheeler MP, minister for housing and homelessness, said: “It is simply unacceptable that anyone has to sleep on the streets, which is why we have set out bold plans backed by £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, including our £100m rough sleeping strategy.

“This is already making a difference through additional bed spaces and support workers – and new legislation means people at risk are getting the help they need more quickly.

“But we know more needs to be done to end rough sleeping for good and are committed to work with partners like Crisis to do just that.”

Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter, said of the study: “This is a really important piece of research that shows how the official rough-sleeping statistics are likely to be way off the mark.

“The government must address the deep problems in our housing system that are leading to homelessness – fixing the problems in the welfare system and committing to a major social house-building programme.”

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