Councils buying homeless one-way train tickets

By Anna Collinson
Reporter, Victoria Derbyshire programme

image source, Getty Images
image captionCharity Homeless Link said using one-way train tickets could leave rough sleepers "more isolated"

A number of councils in England are regularly buying one-way train tickets for homeless people out of their area, the Victoria Derbyshire show has found.

Some spent more than £1,000 a year on fares and charity Homeless Link called the scale "worrying".

The strategy can be used to reconnect rough sleepers with family, but one man said he was offered a ticket to a city he had never been to before.

The government said it was investing £550 million to tackle homelessness.

'Made me feel sick'

There were 4,134 people sleeping on the streets in England in 2016 - a 130% rise in six years, government figures suggest. The charity Crisis says this is a significant underestimate.

Twenty councils with the highest number of rough sleepers in England were asked - some by Freedom of Information request - how many homeless people had been offered the "reconnection" policy of a one-way train ticket between 2012 and 2017.

Of the 11 that responded, 10 said they had bought such tickets.

Manchester City Council - which had 78 rough sleepers in 2016 - said it had spent £9,928 on reconnecting homeless people in six years, but did not keep a record of how many people this involved.

image captionGareth Glendall-Pickton said being offered a one-way train ticket was "soul-destroying"

In Bournemouth - which had 39 rough sleepers in 2016 - the council said it had arranged 144 reconnections in three-and-a-half years.

One rough sleeper, Gareth Glendall-Pickton - who grew up in the seaside town - claimed he was recently offered a ticket to Manchester, where he did not know anyone and had never been to previously.

"It made me feel sick," he explained. "I've lived here all my life... it's soul-destroying.

"I think what they want to do is to get the homeless people out of Bournemouth, because all the new people coming to the area are seeing all those homeless people sitting there.

"[The council] see it as making Bournemouth a bad place."

image captionSoup kitchen owner Claire Matthews described the buying of one-way tickets as a form of "social cleansing"

Claire Matthews, who runs the local soup kitchen Hope for Food, described the practice as "social cleansing, and an abdication of any responsibility on [the council's] part".

Bournemouth Borough Council said it only offered one-way tickets to homeless people who did not have a local connection to the area and "where it can be proven that the service user can be safely reconnected back to their area of locality".

media captionMhairi slept rough in Bournemouth after suffering post-natal depression

Elsewhere, Bristol City Council said it had offered 167 homeless people a one-way bus, train or plane ticket since 2014 - saying the option was only suggested if accommodation had been confirmed in the new area.

Exeter City Council spent £4,651 reconnecting 107 rough sleepers in two-and-a-half years.

It said: "As a minimum a housing options appointment is set up with the local authority in the area".

'Deteriorating health'

The charity Homeless Link described the Victoria Derbyshire programme's findings as "worrying".

Its chief executive Rick Henderson said that if "a person has a support network in a different area, then helping them reconnect can help to end their rough sleeping".

But he added: "Simply displacing rough sleepers without offering support is not solving the issue, and at worst can exacerbate their situation, leaving them more isolated and at risk of deteriorating physical and mental health."

Homeless Link argued that while tight resources may impact councils' homeless services, vulnerable people should be able to seek support wherever they were and regardless of whether they had a local connection.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Even one person without a roof over their head is too many.

"That's why this government is investing £550 million to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which will require councils to provide early support to people at risk of becoming homeless."

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

More on this story