A homelessness charity has criticised the government’s approach to tackling rough sleeping as the number of people living on the streets has increased in every region of England in the past year.

The government announced on Wednesday rough sleeping has risen by 27% in England between the autumns of 2022 and 2023.

Charlotte Talbott, Chief Executive of Emmaus UK, said: “More and more people are being forced out of their homes at a time when councils are cutting services due to severe funding deficits. The government must act to prevent more people being forced into homelessness.”

The government have declared £107m is being offered to local councils nationwide to create an additional 800 homes for rough sleepers. Also £109m will be made available via Homelessness Prevention Grants for councils to prevent evictions and fund temporary accommodation.

Sheffield City Council will receive £3m of this funding after more than 4000 people or families applied to be registered as homeless in 2022, the highest figure ever recorded in the city. The funding will be used to support volunteer organisations Action Housing and Support, Target Housing and the Young Women’s Housing Project, and is said to enable the creation of ten properties for those without a permanent home.

Green Party Councillor, Douglas Johnson, who is the Chair of the Housing Policy Committee for Sheffield City Council, said: “This new funding is not going to be enough and of course it will take some time to get this new accommodation into place but nevertheless it is a step in the right direction.”

In 2019, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson made the promise to eliminate homelessness and rough sleeping for good as part of a £260 million funding package. Fast forward to 2024, and the number of people sleeping rough is on the rise for the second consecutive year.

In the autumn of 2023, 3,898 people across England were registered as sleeping rough on a single night, a 120% increase since records began in 2010. These snapshots are calculated by estimating the number of people sleeping rough on a specific night, meaning the figures are likely to be an underestimate with many homeless people going unseen.

A record high 109,000 households were also registered as being homeless in temporary housing in England between July and September 2023 – up 10% from last year – including 142,490 children being recorded as homeless during this period.

Ms Talbott, the Chief Executive of Emmaus UK, said: “We know that these figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true number of people experiencing homelessness.”

In the face of this worsening issue, the South Yorkshire branch of Emmaus are striving to make a difference by restoring the identity and livelihoods of formerly homeless people.

Lesley Morgan, the Community Leader of Emmaus Sheffield, says: “We have definitely had an influx in referrals in the past twelve months. We always tell people they can stay for however long they want, and if someone’s had a lifetime of abuse and failure and have found somewhere where they’re comfortable, they don’t want to move on. We have one resident who’s been here for 14 years, it’s good that he’s comfortable but it blocks other people from using the service.”

Located in a former cutlery factory on Cadman Street, Emmaus Sheffield pride themselves on giving those in need more than just a place to stay, but providing them with a purpose by giving them a job at their furniture store.

The centre opened in 2007 and has helped 300 people so far, with all residents who live in the Emmaus community referred to as companions.

Donation collection at Emmaus / Emmaus Sheffield

The charity relies on donations of furniture and other items as well as the sale of handmade products created by companions to pay for formerly homeless people’s home, food and weekly allowance.

Ms Morgan says: “We say to people you will have a home here but we need your help to run our charity. People receive lots of training and get qualifications, and when they are ready to live independently we help them find a job and carry on supporting them for the next six months.

“Many people who come here don’t even have things like identification, so we help them find their identity and train them to work in our workshop to create things we can sell.”

Emmaus Sheffield currently have the space to house 18 companions, but are looking to expand after an increase in requests for accommodation in line with the rising homelessness in the city.

As a result, the charity have applied for planning permission to build another four rooms on the Emmaus residence that will increase their capacity to 22. In order for charities like Emmaus to take on the financial burden of helping more people afflicted by homelessness, they rely on collaboration with local councils in the form of funding grants. The new government measures aim to alleviate these pressures for a select few organisations in their bid to help Sheffield’s homeless.

Cllr Johnson said: “There are a number of people who sleep rough in the city centre despite accommodation being offered. This is because homelessness is a very complex issue with multiple causes, including an unsettled way of life, abuse, substance misuse and mental health problems.”

The lack of government resources and the cost of living crisis has proved an obstacle to Emmaus in their ambition to get their companions living independently as soon as they are ready, with some residents being forced into returning by the increasingly steep private rent prices. However, Ms Morgan says that the door is always open for companions to come back and make use of the training that Emmaus Sheffield has to offer as a uniquely drug and alcohol free project.

“A lot of people when they are drug and alcohol free after a history of drug abuse want to help people in similar positions, so we offer health and social care courses and help train people to become youth workers.

“We have got a wonderful community here and some amazing individuals that work with us, and everyone respects one another.”