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Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI) in Central London
United Kingdom

Keywords: Social Exclusion/Integration
Homelessness & Housing


The Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI) in Central London is a multi-agency effort to provide temporary and permanent accommodation to people sleeping rough in central London.


The objective of the Government's Rough Sleepers Initiative is to ensure that it is unnecessary for anyone to have to sleep rough in central London. The Initiative is widely regarded as a success - mainly attributed to the multi-agency approach to tackling the problem of sleeping rough.

The Government has funded temporary direct access hostel provision, an annual winter shelter programme, additional outreach and resettlement workers and, most importantly, capital funding to develop suitable move-on accommodation. Through the Initiative, several thousand people have been helped to start a new life away from the streets in purpose-built accommodation.

Many of those who remain sleeping rough in central London have problems beyond a lack of accommodation, such as alcohol or drug misuse, or mental ill health and have often been sleeping out for some considerable time. The key development over the duration of the RSI has been the evolution of a co-ordinated multi-agency approach to focus attention on these people to ensure that all the help they need is available. The Initiative is involving not only organisations concerned with accommodation, but also those concerned with health care, training and employment.

The combined resources of central and local Government, the voluntary sector, housing associations, health care providers, the police and local businesses are being targeted on five areas of London where rough sleeping remains a particular problem, such as The Strand and the Bullring at Waterloo. In these areas, all sectors contribute to consortia formed to identify and meet the needs of people sleeping rough there.

A co-ordinated approach to the problem of rough sleeping is also being pursued within Government. An Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group has been established, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Urban Regeneration, David Curry, to pull together Housing, Social Security, Health, Employment and Home Office policies affecting people sleeping rough. Each of these departments contributed to the consultation paper published in October and is committed to our common aim of ensuring that it is unnecessary to sleep rough.

The success of the RSI approach is such that the Government is keen to see how, with the weight of best practice that has been developed, it might be replicated outside central London.

    Changes in Policy/Practice
    Changes in sectoral policies and strategies

The profile of the RSI has helped to encourage local authorities (housing and social services departments) to consider more directly their obligations towards their non-statutory homeless; and their active, regular involvement in the consortia has further strengthened local authority focus on this non-statutory group.

As part of strategy formulation for future policies to tackle the problem of rough sleeping, an inter-departmental group has been set up at official and ministerial level to discuss the often multi-faceted problems faced by people who sleep rough and how best to address them across Government.

    Changes in management systems and decision-making processes

The consortia provide a forum for housing and social services departments of local authorities to meet regularly together with the front-line voluntary agencies, encouraging a more coordinated approach to the problem of single homelessness.

    Narrative Summary
    How did the Best Practice involve users/residents in the process?

Voluntary agencies have been actively engaged by the Government in all the RSI consultation exercises on behalf of the client group. There has also been regular first-hand contact with these agencies during the Initiative. In evaluations, both those of the Initiative as a whole and those of smaller component parts, such as the Winter Shelter Programme, direct surveys are conducted of rough sleepers who use the hostels and shelters or take up permanent accommodation.

    How did the best practice achieve acceptance and support from the wider community?

In developing the Initiative, policies have been subject to wide-ranging consultation, within which all sections of the community: housing associations, voluntary agencies, local authorities, statutory bodies, religious organisations, educational establishments, and local residents and businesses have been invited to contribute their views to an improved strategy.

There is a clear mutual benefit for voluntary organisations, local residents and businesses, and the police, in helping people sleeping rough to move off of the streets to a more settled lifestyle, directly alleviating the problem in their area, which can be expressed in fora such as the consortia. Local support, tolerance and cooperation have direct benefits, encouraging increased awareness of the work of homeless agencies and of the difficulties faced by those who sleep rough in the area.

    Did the Best Practice promote partnership between private/public/voluntary sectors?

This partnership is one of the core elements of the RSI. The consortia approach of communication and cooperation between different sectors in tackling single homelessness is now one which others are beginning to replicate throughout the country, and links in central London are well established. There are many examples of such partnerships bringing about practical results.

One such example is the setting up of the annual Winter Shelter Programme. The Department of the Environment (DoE), local authorities, and organisations such as CRASH (a construction industries charity) all assist voluntary agencies in the search for suitable sites. Local authority representatives at the consortia give planning advice, and the support of local residents and the police is also invaluable for securing planning permission in a suitable timescale. DoE funds the shelters, and CRASH uses 'gifting' contractors to refurbish the properties to make DoE's money stretch further. Local businesses donate items such as sheets, toiletries etc. Department of Health and alcohol and drugs misuse charities run free clinics in the shelters. DoE funds voluntary agencies to manage the shelters; agencies increasingly aim to cooperate with each other to achieve continuity of care for a person who has slept rough moving from the streets to a more settled lifestyle. The DoE-funded Clearing House allocates permanent bedspaces created under the Initiative to people who have a history of sleeping rough in central London and are referred by the voluntary agencies.

There is also cooperation across Whitehall. Inter-departmental groups have now been established, at both ministerial and official level, with the aim of giving coordinated assistance to people sleeping rough who may also have problems with mental ill-health, alcohol or drugs misuse, or who may require employment and training advice as well as help with housing. A significant proportion of rough sleepers have previously been in institutions for which other departments have lead policy responsibility (in care, prison or the armed forces). Other non-DoE responsibilities such as changes to the law or to benefit entitlements may also impact on people sleeping rough. As the number of rough sleepers diminishes to a 'hard-core', so this kind of cross-Whitehall awareness and cooperation becomes increasingly important.

    Was the Best Practice project measured or evaluated independently?

The voluntary sector organisation, Homeless Network, conducts a bi-annual head-count of people sleeping rough in central London. They have found a steady decline in the total number of people sleeping rough since the RSI began, from over 1,000 in 1990 to 270 in May 1995.

All housing associations and voluntary organisations in receipt of grant-aid under the RSI are required to provide quarterly monitoring reports based on agreed performance measures and targets together with an annual evaluation report, as a condition of grant-aid. The Department uses such reports to inform its decisions about the effectiveness of organisations and to assess bids for further funding. A cross-section of these monitoring and evaluation reports were examined by the independent researchers for the evaluation referred to below.

In 1993 Research and Information Services published "The Rough Sleepers Initiative: An Evaluation" which aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of the first phase of the Initiative in meeting the accommodation needs of people sleeping rough in central London and to assess the impact on the extent and nature of rough sleeping in the area. It concluded that

"the Rough Sleepers Initiative has had a major impact on providing homes for homeless people. All aspects of the monitoring programme confirm its success...allowing for turnover in the stock, several thousand people with a history of homelessness and sleeping rough will have been provided with accommodation under the initiative. Many are vulnerable people who have histories of poor health, unemployment and time in care and other institutions. They would otherwise be unlikely to have secured their own homes. Most of them are satisfied with their new homes and with the help they received with moving in. As a result the number of people sleeping rough in central London has reduced substantially."


The Government is spending more than œ180 million under the Rough Sleepers Initiative, over the six years 1990-91 to 1995-96 to help people sleeping rough in central London.

This has provided:

  • 3,300 places in permanent accommodation;
  • 950 extra places in temporary hostels;
  • 750 places in flats and houses leased from the private sector;
  • an annual winter shelter programme of circa 350 places in shelters (plus circa 200 emergency cold weather beds);
  • circa 70 posts to carry out outreach and resettlement accommodation;
  • a Clearing House to allocate RSI permanent accommodation.

Decreasing numbers of people sleeping rough:

Independent voluntary sector counts of the number of people sleeping rough in central London on any one night have found a significant decrease since the RSI began.

    Before RSI 1000+ people
    April 1991 census 741
    March 1992 440
    November 1992 419
    June 1993 358
    November 1993 287
    May 1994 268
    November 1994 288
    May 1995 270


The majority of resources under the Initiative have funded the development of permanent accommodation developed by housing associations. This is a mixture of new-build and renovation of existing properties. Referrals into properties, and any re-lets into existing properties which become vacant, are taken from a common waiting list of rough sleepers and former rough sleepers. The intention is that permanent accommodation developed under the RSI will be available in perpetuity for use by rough sleepers.

As a result of the Initiative, the number of people sleeping rough in central London has fallen. With more accommodation coming on stream, it is hoped that further progress can continue to be made.


    Homelessness & Hsg Management Policy Div
    Dept. of Env. N13/09, 2 Marsham St
    United Kingdom
    SW1P 3EB
    0171 276 3241


    Department of the Environment
    Room N13/05, 2 Marsham Street
    United Kingdom
    SW1P 3EB
    0171 276 0513


    Homeless Network, London
    Warner, David: Homeless Network
    Alliance House, 12 Caxton St
    United Kingdom
    0171 799 2404

    Homelessness & Housing Management Policy Division, Dep. of Env.
    Bishop, Sandy
    N13/09, 2 Marsham Street
    United Kingdom
    SW1P 3EB
    0171 276 3241

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