Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue

April – May 2024 : Compassion READ ONLINE


Counting heads in the cold

May 24 2009
Winter shelters figures show some boroughs may have more rough sleepers than the government claims Almost 230 people took advantage of winter shelters and extra accommodation provided around London during the latest spell of freezing weather. Last month saw the temperature drop well below zero on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th, putting London's winter shelters under severe pressure to accommodate extra people. When the Met Office warns that temperatures will drop below zero, local authorities have to follow the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), providing extra beds, adding to those provided by hostels and winter shelters provided by churches and charities. A St Mungo's spokesperson said one of its Islington shelters accommodated up to 60 people between 31st January and 17th February. The West London Churches Winter Shelter also had high occupancy, offering relief from the cold to 35 people during the coldest nights of last month. The figures found by The Pavement offer interesting reading, as they show some boroughs may have considerably more rough sleepers than the government claims. For instance, according to the latest government estimate from June last year, four people sleep rough in the borough of Hackney, London; however, 25 people are understood to have slept at the Hackney Winter Night Shelter on the nights of the 7th and 8th of February. The government also estimates that only two people sleep rough in Lewisham, while the 999 Club said 11 people slept there over the same period. An industry insider, who asked not to be named, shed some light on such differences: "Nobody would seriously argue that the street count figures on homelessness are accurate, given the weak methodology, which involves just counting people seen at the side of main streets, and given the heavy policing work carried out to move people on before street counts." "Those figures miss out people who are on the margins: people who don't settle down anywhere, who don't have work, who spend time living in squats or at friends'. They are as homeless and as vulnerable as anybody, and they will take up the offer of a bed when one is made available in a winter shelters." Many of the winter shelters surveyed by The Pavement said they had fewer beds to offer than people demanding one, which meant some people had to be put on 'waiting lists'. Eastern European immigrants in London, the so-called A10 nationals, are not always counted in official figures, as most day centres cannot provide help to people who do not claim benefits.