The rise of rough sleeping on London's night buses: a journey on the 25


“This bus terminates here, please take all of your belongings with you,” announces the considerate, robotic voice of a woman. These words are said hundreds of times each night over London’s 51 night bus routes.

For some it is a helpful prompt, but for an increasing amount of the capital’s homeless, it’s a stark reminder of their desperate situation.

Here is the story of the number 25, the bus with the highest number of reported rough sleeping incidents in London.

Rough sleeping on London’s night buses has risen 121% in the past four years, according to an internal report by Transport for London seen exclusively.

Across the English capital, there were 213 driver incident reports between 1st November 2015 and 24th January 2016 – an increase from 97 over the same period in 2012/13.

Each square represents one report:

Source: TfL

95% of these reports were because of rough sleepers’ refusal to alight the bus at the end of the line.

These figures therefore do not include a record of all rough sleepers – that number is likely to be far higher.

Joanne, 22, began sleeping on night buses after problems at home meant that she could no longer live with her parents.

My first night I didn’t sleep at all. It was so cold my hands were numb.

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at homelessness charity Centrepoint:

In the 20th century in the UK, it's really scandalous that young people are having to sleep on night buses. But funding cuts mean hostels might have to close.

The routes with the highest number of these reports are those that unravel on long, serpentine paths to the outer reaches of the city – Tottenham Hale, Wembley, Edmonton Green.

Transport for London has revealed that the bus with the most rough sleepers is the 25, a double-decker that crawls from Oxford Street to Ilford.

With a round-trip duration of three hours, it has one of the longest journey times in London.

The routes with the highest number of driver incident reports this winter (1st November 2015 - 24th January 2016) were:

25 - 23 reports

29/N29 - 9 reports

5/N15 - 7 reports

18 - 7 reports

149 - 7 reports

Westminster has the highest number of rough sleeping reports, perhaps because many night bus routes begin in or pass through the borough.

These routes are popular because of their long journey times, meaning a fraction more value for money and possibly even sleep.

In Westminster, average house prices are in excess of £2 million (compared to the national average of £309,221).

Gaz, 42, has been sleeping on night buses for almost two years, after moving from Melbourne a decade ago. Despite being employed part-time as a painter, London’s rent prices are prohibitive.

Sometimes I’m working in some of the wealthiest homes, and they’d never guess that I'm homeless.

Severe budget cuts to local authorities has meant that homeless shelters are creaking under the strain of demand – and there isn’t space for everyone.

Last September, New Horizon Youth Centre, a London day centre that tries to find emergency accommodation for vulnerable young people, was forced to start giving out bus passes.

Shelagh O’Connor, the charity's director, argues that if you look after them, all of society will benefit.

"We need more investment in emergency spaces," she says. "Because if you have somebody rough sleeping even for a few weeks, you will see a deterioration in their mental health, in their whole physical wellbeing, perhaps turning to street crime or prostitution."

Thomas, 20, wants to be a screenwriter and describes himself as “quite good” at writing poetry. After sleeping rough for weeks, he was one of the lucky few to be housed via New Horizon Youth Centre.

There are so many houses in London, but they’re for multi-million pound investors

It’s part of a wider trend, with rough sleeping as a whole in London increasing 126.51% since 2010, according to government statistics, as well as there being 17,180 people now classified as statutorily homeless.

Each square represents one rough sleeping report:

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government

Young people are particularly at risk because, for example, you can't qualify for the London Living Wage until the age of 25. And, at the moment, the government are considering removing the housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds, further reducing support for that age group.

Anthony Akers, Head of Bus Operations at Transport for London:

A lot of people think of rough sleepers as people who have drink and drug issues, where actually it could be a personal break-up, or a loss of a job.

Have you ever experienced homelessness? Tell us about it.


WORDS: Peter Yeung

DATA: Peter Yeung

CODE: Alli Shultes, Peter Yeung, Dorien Luyckx



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