Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Simon Community headcount finds drop in rough sleepers

May 21 2009
A rise in "disrupt and disperse" is suggested as a reason for numbers dropping by 60 The Simon Community's latest annual headcount of rough sleepers showed a decline in the number of people sleeping on the streets, with numbers falling by 60 from 301 last April, to 241 this year. About 40 volunteers took part in the count, which took place between 11pm and around 5am on Friday 11th April. "It was particularly quiet," says the Simon's communications manager Jo Nurse: "We can't really explain it, but it's likely that figures are going down as older people are dying. People are also saying there has also been more police activity and they're being asked to move on." One possible reason for the increased police dispersals, suggested Ms Nurse, is the recent high-profile events in the capital: "We've just had the Olympic flame and the London Marathon. Things like that can have an impact for several weeks". This could be the reason why, perhaps surprisingly, the Simon Community count are now nearer the official figures. A National Rough Sleeping Estimate for 2007, published by Communities and Local Government in September, calculated 498 people sleeping rough on the streets of England on any single night. A recent discussion paper, also from Communities and Local Government, published on 8th April, estimated that London accounts for around half of today's rough sleeping. According to the September estimate, this is about 249 people - a figure not far off that found by the Simon Community. Steve Barnes, of the Simon Community, had also predicted higher figures: "We were expecting to find 280‚Äö?Ñ?¨300 people, especially in areas such as Covent Garden and Belgravia. In Belgravia, there were eight people and there are usually about 25‚Äö?Ñ?¨30." However, he added: "Any night is only a snapshot, the figures may be artificially high or low, unless you do it regularly." He also referred to the unknown numbers of "hidden homeless" and, like Ms Nurse, pointed to a rise in reports of "disrupt and disperse" tactics with police moving on rough sleepers, particularly in Camden and Westminster. While dispersal often leads to overspill in surrounding areas, Mr Barnes said, evidence of this wasn't really found in the count, although he noted that areas likely to see increased numbers because of dispersal - such as Lambeth and Waterloo - were not fully covered by the Simon Community remit. Some rough sleepers, he added, may have chosen spots out of sight, for example in parks, to avoid detection by police. On the same night as the street headcount, the Simon Community carried out their ‚Äö?Ñ??hostels count', where volunteers ring around London hostels to find out how many spaces are available for that night. The final figure was 29-30, or one bed available per 11-12 people. "Despite what the government says," said Mr Barnes, "there's not enough." Although the Simon Community's count does not chart the background of individuals counted, Barnes estimates that the number of A8 nations would be a large proportion, although, he says, many will also be in unsafe shared housing too. The Simon Community is a registered charity that has been operating for 45 years. It uses its annual headcounts to help plan outreach support programmes and to monitor official figures from the Government or local authorities, from which it is independent.