Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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September 26 2009
Another street count raises questions amid allegations of dubious tactics An official head count of rough sleepers within Westminster recorded an increase in the number of homeless in the area, amid allegations of tactics designed to reduce the figure. A total of 156 rough sleepers were counted in the borough on the evening of Wednesday 23rd November, compared to 146 for the previous year. A head count in September 2005 put the number at 160. The Simon Community undertook its own street head count at the end of October, and found 247 people sleeping rough in the City of Westminster, almost 100 more than official figures now state. And both The Simon Community and some of our readers are claiming that diversionary tactics were put in place in the days before the street count took place. A number of readers say they were offered travel warrants by Police and community officers, in an attempt to transfer them out of the area. Mark Smith, a homeless man, was offered a travel warrant a few days prior to the head count. He declined it but knows one rough sleeper who took up the offer of a warrant and left the city temporarily. In a BBC report on the issue of travel warrants being handed out, the Metropolitan Police denied the allegation that they were shifting people out of the area, saying that they regularly issue travel warrants for homeless people, particularly during the winter months. Allegations have also been made that local authorities exerted harsh measures against homeless people, according to The Simon Community. They received information about a group of homeless people being physically moved out of the Victoria Street area by Police. Similarly, there are accusations of doorways used to bed down in were hosed by cleaners to make them unusable. There are claims that charities were also instructed to make beds available in their hostels ahead of the count, and emergency accommodation was opened up on the week the count took place. The Simon Community has observed a decline in the numbers of street homeless in recent weeks, which it welcomes, but it is concerned at the reasons behind the dip in rough numbers. Mark Palframan, services manager for The Simon Community, said, "we are very pleased to see this fall in the numbers this week and the extra accommodation which is being made available. However, we would like to remind both central and local government that the [Simon Community] head count found a higher number of people sleeping rough compared to last year and longer term solutions are needed - particularly the provision of more move-on accommodation." Local government has used diversionary tactics in the past to massage the number of rough sleepers downwards. Charities in the homeless sector remember being asked to allow double the amount of rough sleepers through their doors on the nights when the count was taking place, and there are anecdotes of parties being organised to which rough sleepers were invited on the night of the count. While many of the allegations of tactics to reduce rough sleeping in the Westminster area cannot be substantiated, The Simon Community believes it has amassed enough evidence to suggest that some tactics were in place to keep the numbers of homeless as low as possible, and help Westminster Council hit its targets in reducing the number of rough sleepers on its turf. The City of Westminster has one of the highest homeless populations in the UK, and its Council has put in place initiatives that rely on targets to assess the success of policy, targets upon which many organisations find their funding dependent.