Rough sleeping is a humanitarian crisis unfolding on Britain’s streets. Can architects help?

Ben Flatman

Ben Flatman looks at some of the ways the profession is making a difference

The past decade has seen an explosion in homelessness in the UK to an estimated 320,000 people. At the same time, numbers of rough sleepers have doubled to almost 5,000. Most of us don’t need statistics to be made aware of the problem. On a recent visit to Birmingham I found the road tunnel under the Bull Ring shopping centre had become a semi-permanent encampment for the city’s poor and destitute. And in December it was reported that a homeless man, Gyula Remes, had died just outside the Houses of Parliament. As MP David Lammy said: “There is something rotten in Westminster when MPs walk past dying homeless people on the way into work.”

In August last year the government announced plans to halve the numbers of rough sleepers by 2022, which would simply return the situation to where it was in 2010. More ambitiously, government says it wants to eradicate rough sleeping completely by 2027. Much of this feels like rather too little, too late. Last month the housing minister, James Brokenshire, actually admitted that government policy had itself probably played a part in driving people on to the streets – a rare admission of failure and responsibility from a minister.

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