The Rural Affairs Team is part of the BBC.

Steve Phillips in his flatImage source, BBC/Claire Marshall
Image caption, Former rural rough-sleeper Steve Phillips says he's been stamped on, set on fire, and had people urinate on him

The place has bare walls and no TV.

He has a roof and a bed, and his name is on the lease.

He can't call home until he's 45.

He told us that kids set his sleeping bag on fire while he was in it. They ran off after I left. They set the old hotel on fire, thinking it was funny.

A new task force made up of charities, housing associations and academics say that rural homelessness is England's hidden crisis.

They fear that the cost-of-living crisis will add to the number of rough sleepers in rural areas.

Being homeless in the countryside was more difficult than in the city.

It's not as close as it could be. You can be abusive to people who walk past you. If they didn't see you for a while, they'd try to find you and see how you were.

He was sleeping on the streets of Ross-on-Wye in the middle of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Through the government's "Everyone In" initiative, he was helped with his drug addiction and mental health issues. 43,000 people were helped by the initiative to make sure no one slept rough during the Pandemic. It has come to an end.

Steve says there is nothing for rough sleepers in rural areas. In the winter there is only a night shelter. There are no hostels for homeless people in the new year. I wouldn't be on the street without this place.

Rural areas have less hostels than urban ones.

An abandoned shelter in a forestImage source, Robert Brook
Image caption, Rough sleepers are often less visible in the countryside, choosing to stay in hidden camps, barns and outhouses

The council says it has been given more than two million dollars to fund its support team.

During the recent H1N1 epidemic, Herefordshire helped 200 people with accommodations. Most of the rough sleepers in the county had been provided with a place to stay.

According to those working on the frontline of rural homelessness, official figures don't tell the whole story.

It is easier to record a homeless person sleeping on a city street than it is to record a person in a barn.

It's easy for people to think homelessness isn't a problem around here because they rarely see homeless people.

There are 20 homeless people hidden away.

She says that some of these may be sofa-surfing or sleeping in cars. Rough sleeping is dangerous.

The crisis isn't understood because of the hidden nature of rough sleeping.

Almost all of the experts and rural organizations the taskforce interviewed thought homelessness had gone up in their area. Most of the blame was on a lack of funding for shelters.

Dr Carin TunakerImage source, BBC/Claire Marshall
Image caption, Dr Carin Tunåker believes more investment is needed in tackling rural homelessness

According to Dr Carin Tunker, who is leading the investigation, the current economic crisis is creating a perfect storm and that there is a huge increase in homelessness at a time when less money is being invested.

The charity used government data to estimate the number of homeless people in rural areas.

Dr Tunker thinks there needs to be more investment in supported housing and mental health interventions.

Affordable homes development in the countryside.
Image caption, A small development of affordable homes in Worcestershire

One of the problems is persuading local communities to accept affordable homes in places where there is a clear need.

He says that there is a misconception about who is going to live in those homes and that there is a stigma attached to affordable homes.

The affordable homes programme of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is helping to provide more housing across the country.

She said that the rough sleeping strategy would help bring an end to the problem.

She said that the government's cost-of-living support package would help this winter, as well as ensuring families were not left without a roof over their heads.

Better transport links, schools and community facilities are some of the improvements that will be delivered by the government.

You can follow her on the social media sites.

  • Homelessness
  • Rural life
  • Mental health