Rough sleeping may be the most visible form of homelessness, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Most people experiencing homelessness will not be on the streets. They will have a roof over their heads but not a permanent home to build a life and flourish.  

Recognising all forms of homelessness is essential so people can get the proper support to rebuild their lives.

Rough sleeping

At bus stops, train stations, under bridges, in parks and nestled in shop doorways. These are just a few places where people sleep rough in our towns and cities. 

It could be someone sleeping on the streets for the first time or someone who has been sleeping rough for months, even years. 

The true scale of rough sleeping in England is unknown. The Government’s official Rough Sleeping Snapshot reported 7,326 people sleeping on the streets in June 2023; but this is just an estimate, with local councils providing an estimate or a snapshot over just one night.

In London, we have a more accurate figure for rough sleeping through the CHAIN database: 

  • Between April 2022 and March 2023, 10,053 people spent at least one night on London’s streets. This is 54% higher than the figure of 6,508 people seen rough sleeping ten years ago.
  • 6,391 were new rough sleepers, who had never been seen bedded down in London prior to this year. 69% of these new rough sleepers had been evicted from long-term housing including the private-rented sector. 
  • Nearly (47%) of all people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2022 in London and the Southeast. 

In official statistics, women represent 13% of all people rough sleeping, but this number is dangerously wrong. 

Women are often missed by outreach services and thus are not counted in official stats. They hide from danger on the streets but also from the services meant to support them. In 2022, we piloted the first-ever Women’s Rough Sleeping, ‘Making Women Count,’ to gather a more accurate account of women’s rough sleeping in London. We found 154 women over a five-day period rough sleeping in London.

Statutory homelessness

If a person or family is legally defined as homeless, in priority need, and has not ‘intentionally’ caused their homelessness, they’re considered statutorily homeless. The local housing authority has a legal duty to find anyone under these criteria a secure place to live under the Homelessness Reduction Act. This is called the main homelessness duty. 

To be legally defined as homeless, you must either: 

  • Be homeless now or at risk of losing your home in the next 8 weeks 
  • Be unsafe due to domestic abuse or other violence 
  • Be living in poor housing conditions 

Every year, tens of thousands of Londoners apply to their local authority for homelessness assistance. Local authorities will aim to support everyone with a main homelessness duty, offering emergency housing or temporary accommodation to certain households - particularly families with children, pregnant women, and adults assessed as vulnerable.

Temporary accommodation 

This is the most common form of homelessness, with 170,000 Londoners equivalent to 1 in 50 - living in temporary accommodation. This is provided by the local council when you do not have another suitable living arrangement. 

Depending on availability and appropriateness, someone may be placed into several types of temporary accommodation: 

  • Room in a shared house 
  • Flat or house from a private landlord 
  • Short term council or housing association tenancy 
  • Hostel, refuge or other housing with support 

With an expensive housing market, cost of living crisis and a lack of social housing, Councils are having to rely more and more on temporary accommodation to keep Londoners off the streets. Temporary housing is meant to be short-term, but people can be trapped in temporary accommodation for months, sometimes years, if no alternative housing can be found. 

  • 83,000 children are in temporary accommodation, meaning on average, at least one child in every London classroom is homeless.
  • The number of families placed in B&Bs doubled between April 2022 and April 2023 (up from 1,543 to 3,242) – an increase of 110%. Over 1/3 will remain in a B&B for more than six-weeks. 
  • London Councils estimate that boroughs collectively spend £60 million monthly on temporary accommodation costs.

Hidden homelessness

People experiencing hidden homelessness are without a home, living in informal situations. This can include staying with friends or family, sleeping on sofas, or living in unsafe places, like squats. It can be a highly vulnerable position that can leave people at risk of abuse, assault, and exploitation, and can lead to periods of rough sleeping.

These people are often not counted in official statistics but make up the majority of single homeless people in England. This is because they are usually not eligible for support or have yet to approach their council for support.

Three groups more likely to experience hidden homelessness are:


Women are more likely to resort to staying with friends and family, before approaching local authorities, so remain hidden for longer. Women who experience domestic abuse and approach their local authority are often turned away or placed in unsuitable accommodation — a system failure that forces women to deal with their situation themselves, putting them in a vulnerable position.

Our award-winning research found that women’s homelessness is often hidden and occurs at a far greater scale than is generally recognised. It also found that domestic abuse is a near-universal experience for women who experience homelessness.

Young people

Young people aged 16 to 25 are more likely to experience hidden homelessness and rely on informal support networks, such as staying with friends. They are less likely to recognise themselves as homeless and do not approach their local authority for support.

Research suggests that people overwhelmingly associate homelessness with rough sleeping only, which is not the case for most young people experiencing homelessness. This is why young people may remain hidden for years before recognising their homelessness and getting proper support.

Ethnic minority groups

A review of the housing needs and experiences of ethnic minority groups in Scotland found that people from ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of experiencing hidden homelessness. They are more likely to deal with their housing situation by staying with friends and relatives, often in overcrowded conditions.