If you work with homeless people, or have ever been homeless yourself, you’ll know that public transport is a cheap way to stay warm for a few hours. Last year, a charity took the step of giving young homeless people bus tickets when they couldn’t give them a bed.
That’s why it should come as little surprise that as London’s homelessness problem worsens in the midst of shelter closures and budget cuts, rough sleeping on buses seems to be on the rise, too. A leaked report from TfL, seen by journalists Peter Yeung and Alli Shultes, suggests that rough sleeping on buses has shot up - by 121 per cent in four years, to be precise.
The most popular route for rough sleepers seems to be the 25, probably thanks to its route through traffic-jammed central London. Traffic and distance = more shelter for your £1.40. The 25’s round trip lasts three hours.
In response, Yeung and Shultes have put together a compelling online art and journalism project, A Journey on the 25, which takes you through the statistics and then works its way along the 25 bus route:
The journalists also spoke to rough sleepers he met on buses. Gaz, 42, a painter, tells them that London’s rents have pushed him to sleep rough despite the fact he is employed: “Sometimes I’m working in some of the wealthiest homes, and they’d never guess that I'm homeless.”
By email, Yeung tells me that the TfL data he’s seen consists of “Driver Incident Reports” (DIRs), which is when a driver flags that he or she needs an “emergency response", in these cases because of the actions of a rough sleeper. He says 95 per cent of these types of reports are “classified as disorder, largely linked to them not wanting to alight at the end of the route.
“Therefore, it's likely that the actual figures for rough sleeping on London's night buses is much higher than [this data shows].” Indeed, publicly available statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government showthat rough sleeping in general in London has increased by 127 per cent since 2010.
According to his figures, there were 23 DIRs reported on the 25 bus route between 1 November 2015 and 24 January 2016 – which is about one every three days. The next highest were the 29/N29 with 9 reports, and the 5/N15 with seven.
I contacted TfL for confirmation of the leaked figures and was referred to the mayor's office. A spokesperson sent over this statement, which does not deny that the figures are accurate:
"This shocking report is yet another example of the previous Mayor's failure to deal with the housing crisis and, particularly, homelessness in London. Sadiq Khan will be working closely with government, TfL, local authorities and the voluntary sector to tackle the issue of rough sleeping in the capital.”
Yeung is also collecting more stories and testimonies about rough sleeping through the project- you can submit yours at the bottom of the page here.