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Hidden homeless are sleeping on public transport and sofa surfing, report says

Hidden homeless people are those without a place to call home but who are hidden from official statistics and not receiving support.

People are sofa surfing, squatting and sleeping on public transport as a hidden homelessness crisis hits London, according to a report.

Thirteen times more people are homeless but hidden than are visibly sleeping rough – as many as 12,500 each night, the London Assembly housing committee’s Hidden Homelessness in London report said.

Hidden homeless people are those without a place to call home but who are hidden from official statistics and not receiving support.

They can find themselves in dangerous situations and at risk of abuse, assault and exploitation if they are sleeping rough, sofa surfing, squatting or sleeping on buses and trains.

The report said young people are most likely to be affected, particularly people who identify as LGBT, and the authors of the report also heard this affects people who are not eligible for homelessness support and people fleeing domestic violence.

Only one in five young people affected present to a council, meaning they remain hidden from possible support, and some that do seek help from councils fail to be recognised as vulnerable despite being in danger, the report said.

Recommendations include that the Government should ensure legislation guarantees victims of abuse the right to remain in their homes, if they wish, rather than the perpetrator, and it should also provide sufficient financial support to London local authorities to ensure the successful implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Sian Berry, chair of the London Assembly housing committee, said: “People sleeping on the streets of our city are just the tip of an iceberg.

“The London Assembly housing committee investigation found a much wider problem of hidden homeless people in London who have no permanent home and live precariously. In fact, 13 times more Londoners are hidden and homeless than are visibly sleeping rough.

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Many people not classed as homeless are sleeping rough on London's buses, a report claims (Clive Gee/PA)

“Young people, asylum seekers and people escaping domestic violence can find it hard to get help due to gaps in current policies, and many don’t even try to seek help.

“So-called sofa surfing is common and people can end up staying with virtual strangers where they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“With the Homelessness Reduction Act coming soon, the housing committee wants to see more action on this problem. We need the Mayor and the Government to rally behind local authorities with support to reach every Londoner who needs help.”

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Thirteen times more Londoners are hidden and homeless than are visibly sleeping rough (Laura Lean/PA)

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “Homelessness has risen steadily since 2010 according to official statistics and we know that the problem is acute in London.

“As this report highlights, there are many more people affected by homelessness that we don’t know about. To have so many people homeless in 2017 is quite simply a national disgrace and something we must act on now.

“History tells us that we can significantly reduce homelessness but it will take a cross-departmental commitment from Government and a strategic approach to tackle all of its causes.”

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