Charities question homeless figures

6 Dec 01
Charities have called for an independent inquiry into the way the government counts homeless people after ministers declared they had hit their target of reducing the number of rough sleepers by two-thirds, six months early.

07 December 2001

Figures released by the government's Rough Sleepers Unit on December 3 show the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by 71% during the past three years. There are now an estimated 532 people sleeping on streets in England, compared with 1,850 in 1998.

But the Simon Community, a charity which works with homeless people in London, cast doubt on the accuracy of the figures, claiming that some people had been harassed by the police and forced to leave the streets on November 21, the night of the headcount.

In addition, claimed the charity, a hostel in west London was holding an all-night party when the numbers were counted. Residents were encouraged to invite their friends, many of whom normally sleep rough.

'A lot of the techniques that are used to get these figures are unfair to people living on the streets,' said Steve Barnes, joint community leader with the group.

RSU figures suggest there are 264 people sleeping rough in London, down from 621 three years ago. The next highest figures were Cambridge with 19 and Manchester with 14. But the Simon Community says it had counted 224 people in just eight London boroughs on November 3.

A spokesman for the charity Shelter said it had also heard suggestions that the figures were artificially low. 'If there is any reason for it [the count] to be questioned, there could be a recount in January,' he said.

Louise Casey, head of the unit, denied the statistics had been massaged. 'The number of vulnerable rough sleepers has decreased due to the hard work and determination of charities, local authorities and others,' she said.

Housing minister Lord Falconer, meanwhile, announced the creation of a directorate to co-ordinate efforts for the wider homeless. Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, said: 'Priority must be given to reducing the use of temporary accommodation for homeless people, particularly those enduring the misery of bed and breakfast accommodation.'


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