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Street counts and homeless decoys

March 04 2010
A pioneering New York approach to street counts could make UK  counts more accurate

A pioneering programme to check the figures from homeless street counts in New York could make counts in the UK more "accurate" and "helpful", Housing Justice has said.

The Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) is the annual street count organised by New York's Department of Homeless Services (DHS), when 2,000 volunteers take to the streets to create the definitive register of the city's rough sleepers.

On the same night, 200 decoy 'rough sleepers' spend the night on the streets in order to check the official count reaches all areas of the city. Run by the Hunter College of Social Work, the so-called shadow count, which this January ran for the fifth year, is a means for homeless charities to see whether there are areas of New York that the DHS counters miss.

But could a similar programme be run in London? Street count figures in London have fluctuated considerably from year to year, and official figures from Boris Johnson's office frequently contradict those from homeless charities.

Alison Gelder, chief executive of London's Housing Justice, said the shadow count scheme was an "interesting" idea. "If it were tried here I would want to see it as an addition to the current system of independent verifiers going out on the street counts rather than an alternative to that," she added. "I'm sure that between Housing Justice, Simon Community, Sock Mob and others, we would be able to get enough volunteers to give it a try.

"But for me, the really interesting thing about the New York count was that the counters are asking people whether they are homeless rather than just counting bedded down people. I think that would make the counts more accurate - and helpful - as well," she said.

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