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The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced his backing for a new ‘Missing People Matching Tool’, run by Missing People, which will help outreach workers in the capital identify whether people who are homeless have been reported as missing.

The tool cross-references information from the Mayor’s ‘CHAIN’ (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) database of people sleeping rough in the capital with Missing People’s records of the thousands of people reported missing every year.

If a homeless person is found to have been reported missing, outreach workers can let them know and support them in exploring their options with Missing People. This could include offering to let their friends and family know they are safe, facilitate a reunion with their consent or simply acknowledging their safety and removing their name from the missing persons database.

The online tool only uses a limited amount of personal data – names, date of birth and a photo – which is used for the matching and then deleted, taking full account of data protection law and user confidentiality. When someone is matched, it is up to the person themselves to decide how they want to proceed.

The project, which is being piloted in London but could later be rolled out nationwide, has received £62,000 of funding from the Mayor’s Rough Sleeping Innovation Fund.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “The increase in rough sleeping in recent years across the country is a national disgrace and tragically it is often the most vulnerable in society who find themselves homeless.

“It is crucial we do all we can to help people off the streets of London, and I am pleased to be supporting Missing People’s work to help reunite homeless people with their friends and family who love them.”

Missing People Director of Policy and Research, Susannah Drury said: “We are very pleased to be launching the Missing People Matching Tool today.

“This innovative project was created by the Missing People charity as a way of using technology to help missing people reconnect with their loved ones. We’re delighted that the Mayor of London has funded this project, and that CHAIN is the first database to be linked to the tool, so that missing people who are also homeless can be identified and supported.

“This is just the first stage of this project – we hope that in time, more support organisations will link into the tool to enhance its reach and impact even further.”

Petra Salva is Director of Rough Sleeper, Offender and Migrant Services at St Mungo’s, which manages the CHAIN database and a number of outreach teams in London, said: “People can end up on the streets for many reasons, and people tell us that isolation and loneliness is a major factor.

“With this tool, outreach workers will be able to let people know they are being missed and looked for, but it will be up to the person themselves how they want to take things from there. Staff would support them whatever their decision.”

During 2017/18 a total of 7,484 people were recorded on the CHAIN database as sleeping rough across London. More than 1,600 missing adults are on Missing People’s database. The team behind the project are keen to see use of the tool expand to other groups with an interest in helping missing people such as organisations for ex-prisoners and armed forces veterans. 

Since taking office, the Mayor has made tackling rough sleeping one of his top priorities, throwing out the previous Mayor’s inadequate severe weather shelter policy and working with boroughs to ensure all shelters across the capital are opened as soon as the temperature is forecast to drop to or below zero. They have been open 24 nights already this winter. Under the previous policy, temperatures had to be freezing for three consecutive nights and boroughs opened their shelters at different times, leading to patchy services. Sadiq has also doubled the number of street outreach workers and his rough sleeping services supported more than 3,100 people off the streets last year.

The Mayor’s rough sleeping campaign, launched at the end of November 2018, has so far raised more than £230,000 for the London Homeless Charities Group, a coalition of charities working to tackle rough sleeping.

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