New report reveals true scale of homelessness in Somerset

January 22, 2020

Numbers can sometimes mask the true scale of a problem: the latest official count showed there were 36 rough sleepers in Somerset and a further 397 households were recognised as statutorily homeless last year.

But there are many more local people experiencing homelessness: whether sofa surfing, families living in B&Bs, ex-offenders leaving prison, or those trying to escape domestic abuse. It can be very difficult to get official recognition as being homeless, with many people not able to access support – particularly single, young people.

Somerset Community Foundation’s latest Hidden Somerset: Homelessness research report, funded by The Fairfield Charitable Trust, shines a spotlight on an issue which is complex and often hidden from view. At a panel event to launch the report, guests heard a presentation of the findings of the research from Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) Development Director, Laura Blake, which revealed that:

  • many of Somerset’s homeless people are sleeping in tents in the woods, in farm outbuildings, or in cars hidden from view and recent research estimates that around 62% of homeless people are ‘hidden homeless’.
  • the life expectancy of someone sleeping rough in this country is just 47 – 30 years younger than their peers, with rough sleepers ten times more likely to die than those of a similar age in the general population
  • tragically, four rough sleepers died in Somerset in 2018
  • one homeless drop-in centre in Taunton alone sees between 15-20 visitors every day, suggesting the actual number of rough sleepers is likely to be considerably higher than the official figure of 36

Local voluntary sector organisations are pivotal in ensuring local homeless people – and those on the cusp of homelessness – receive high-quality, intensive support to rebuild their lives. A panel at the event, made up of three charities, social enterprises and community groups who work in the field, brought to life their work with stories of some of the individuals they’ve worked with. Rev. Stephen Fowler from Elim Connect – who provide residential and community-based services for homeless people – told a tragic story of a young homeless person known to his organisation who, after being discharged from hospital in Taunton on a winter evening, attempted to walk back to Glastonbury; sadly, he never made it.

Justin Sargent, Chief Executive at Somerset Community Foundation, said: “Having a safe place to live is an essential human need, and yet those who are most vulnerable in our community and most in need of a stable and safe place to live often are, paradoxically, those most at risk of becoming homeless.

“Our aim with this report is to inspire greater awareness and support for the amazing organisations who work in the field, and the people they help. We are delighted to have secured some new funding to support local charities working with homeless people in Somerset and are seeking additional donations to help us build a homelessness fund and make a bigger difference in the next three years. By pulling together as communities, we can all make a lasting difference to peoples’ lives in the most fundamental way – by helping people find a place they can call home.”

Hidden Somerset: Homelessness is the second in a series of research reports highlighting local community issues to raise vital awareness and funding. The first Hidden Somerset report looked at Rural Isolation, and the third publication focuses on Hidden Youth and will be published February 2020.

If you are interested in supporting the work of Somerset Community Foundation and would like to obtain a copy of the Hidden Somerset reports please call 01749 344949 or email:

You can also download a copy of the Hidden Somerset reports by clicking here.

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