Figures show rough sleeping is declining. So why do there seem to be more homeless on the streets?

A rough sleeper in London, 2017. Image: Getty.

The latest official count of rough sleepers across England found a 2 per cent reduction from 2017 to 2018. But walking past snow-covered sleeping bags on the pavement of the UK’s major cities, it’s hard to believe that there’s been any improvement.

Context is important here: the total number of people estimated to be rough sleeping on a given night in 2018 is 4,677 – that’s 74 fewer people than the previous year. In cities where people move for work and opportunity, including London, Manchester and Birmingham, the figures are up – again. In any case, the count of rough sleepers should be approached with caution. These figures are only a snapshot, a head count taken in every local authority in England on a given night.

While it’s useful for councils to know, at a given point, how many people are homeless on the street, the data does not capture the movement of rough sleepers throughout the year, nor provide a clear picture of the number of people in need and what challenges they’re facing, such as poor physical and mental health, difficulties in accessing healthcare, education and employment and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.

A complex issue

There are some areas where the number of rough sleepers in 2018 appeared to fall – drastically so in some cases. For example, in Brighton and Hove there were 114 fewer homeless people counted in 2018 than 2017, representing a 64 per cent reduction. Yet in the London borough of Westminster, 306 people were counted sleeping rough – an increase of 41 per cent from 2017. In my city, Leicester, the official count recorded is 31, the same figure as in 2017.

The overall picture is varied, so it’s tricky to pinpoint why the figures in some places improve while others worsen. It’s not just down to the cost of housing. In some areas, such as Westminster, where housing and living costs exceed wages and benefits income, the figures are high and rising. But in other cities with similar issues, homelessness is on the decline.

Funding certainly plays a role: as budgets for social housing and other public services have been drastically reduced throughout the last decade of austerity. There’s been an increase in rough sleeping and hidden forms of homelessness – such as young people sofa-surfing with friends – over the same period.

But there are pockets of funding targeted at reducing rough sleeping. In June 2018, the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) announced £30m of funding for the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), as a way of supporting 82 local authorities to reduce high numbers of people sleeping rough, before the count in November 2018.

While there’s been a small reduction of 2 per cent in the official snapshot figures, it’s not really possible to say whether this is the start of positive trend in reducing street homelessness. For example, both Westminster and Brighton received targeted funding, but experienced very different outcomes.

In reality, the RSI funding will take time to affect the lives of people with such complex needs. It’s a welcome injection of funding for a sector that has faced relentless government cuts. But this short-term fix is unlikely to end rough sleeping any time soon.

The people behind the numbers

Funding is absolutely necessary to address homeless people’s range of needs – but it’s not the only factor. Getting to know the people behind the numbers in the count – understanding their stories and how they came to be sleeping on the street – can help agencies understand some of the complex and varied issues that lead to homelessness.

A team led by De Montfort University did this in Leicester as part of the European End Street Homelessness campaign, which has been learning lessons from across the continent and drawing on experiences from the US, where rough sleeping is a huge problem. We worked together with students at the university and a range of public sector and charity colleagues.

The report published in November 2017 recorded the number of people sleeping rough on the night of the government count (31). But it also included much more detailed survey questions, which explored the experiences of each homeless person. These allowed us to learn about the cumulative issues which had led people to sleep on the street. Many had experienced health problems and trauma.

Hearing these stories can help councils and charities to work out what sort of housing and assistance will work in the long term, to reduce the chance of people becoming homeless again. It can also give communities, media and local authorities the means to get rid of the stigma around homelessness, better understand the causes and target resources and support to help people off the streets.

Our project helped to secure RSI funding for the city, prompted the creation of the new Leicester Homelessness Charter and a longer term research partnership, to consider the benefits of a “housing first” approach, which provides a stable home and personalised support to help homeless people stay off the streets.

Getting to know the particular issues and stories that can lead to homelessness is vital to connecting homeless people to the right kind of help, and ultimately reducing or ending street homelessness. Projects such as the European End Street Homelessness Campaign provide a structured way to do that, for each local area. With the announcement of a 2 per cent reduction in rough sleeping, it’s now more important than ever to keep learning the detail about homeless people’s experience, and acknowledge the complexity behind the headline figures.

The Conversation

Jo Richardson, Professor of Housing and Social Research, De Montfort University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.

The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.