Rough sleepers survey shows continuing homelessness problem

By staff writers
April 10, 2009

In spite of assurances by government, rough sleeping by homeless people is still a significant problem in Britain's towns and cities say campaigners, following a head count in the nation's capital.

In the early hours of Saturday 4 April 2009, the Simon Community carried out its twice yearly headcount of people sleeping rough in central London, recording 212 homeless persons on its survey.

The count took place in the eight inner London boroughs of Westminster, City, Southwark, Camden, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea and Islington - many of which contain significant pockets of deprivation.

The previous count occurred in November 2008 when 263 people were recorded sleeping rough in the same areas.

Although carried out in the same way as official counts undertaken by government departments, the Simon Community's findings are consistently higher than those officially released.

They say the fact that there is an apparent reduction should not be taken as a sign that the problem is receding because the count is indicative rather than comprehensive - though it also indicates the flaw in official statistics.

The Simon Community says the 4 April count is only of people who were visible at the time of counting, and does not include those who sleep in parks, disused buildings or other places not accessible to volunteers doing the counting.

The charity's figures will also have been affected by the high level of police activity in Camden, Westminster and the City in recent months, the Community says.

These interventions are intended to move on those sleeping rough, shifting them to other areas. One of these initiatives is 'Operation Poncho', which has attracted criticism from homeless people and those working with them.

A spokesperson for the Simon Community said: "The numbers reflect the fact that there is still inadequate provision for rough sleepers, despite government protestations to the contrary.

He added; "The lack of any safety net for arrivals from the newer EU countries has [also] swelled the number of street homeless, as they have no access to government funding and are therefore trapped in a cycle of homelessness and poverty."

The breakdown of the count by borough is: Westminster 158; Camden 17; Islington 4; Tower Hamlets 3; Lambeth 3; The City 24; Southwark 3; Kensington 0 - giving a total of 212.

Housing justice activists say the figures indicate that there may be several thousand people sleeping rough in Britain every night.

The Simon Community is a partnership of homeless people and volunteers living and working together in a spirit of acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

"We exist as a community to reach out to, support and campaign for people who are homeless or rootless and particularly those for whom no other provision exists."

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