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Rough count

April 02 2010
A calculator and a phone are all you need to blow large holes in government homelessness statistics

The Pavement did its own 'street count' using a calculator and a telephone

According to government statistics, there were 464 rough sleepers in England in 2009. But how does this figure compare to the number of rough sleepers counted by cold weather shelters? The Pavement decided to find out.

The figure of 464 was quoted by Dudley North MP Ian Austin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, in response to a written question from Slough MP Fiona Mactaggart. It is based on local authority street counts. Official figures from the same period - June 2009 - claim that 263 of these were in London and, of these, 110 were in Westminster.

To provide a comparison, The Pavement contacted every cold weather shelter in London, using Homeless Link's Winter Shelters 2009-2010 list. We asked each how many people stayed there on the night of 13 January 2010.

Cold weather shelters, as readers will know, provide temporary shelter to rough sleepers during extreme winter weather. By finding out how many people stayed in every winter shelter in London on one night, we can get an idea of how many people would have otherwise been on the streets.

Here are the results:

Barnet Churches Winter Shelter: 14
Community of Camden Churches Cold Weather Shelter: 14
Croydon Churches Floating Shelter: 14
Hackney Winter Night Shelter: 25
West London Churches Night Shelter: 49
Haringey Churches Winter Shelter: 12
Caris Islington Churches Cold Weather Shelter: 16
Kingston Winter Night Shelter: 13
The Robes Project: 13
Bromley Winter Shelter: 14
St Mungo's Severe Weather Emergency Provision in London: 114
999 Club Winter Shelter: 17
Route 18 Winter Shelter: 6
Hillingdon Winter Shelter: 3
Waltham Forest Emergency Churches Night Shelter: 24

The total is 348; a massive 75 per cent of the government's estimate for the amount of rough sleepers in England, and nearly 100 more than the official figure for London. If we subtract our London total from the government's total for England, we are left with just 116 as a an approximate figure for the number of rough sleepers in England outside of London.

Even allowing for the general fluctuating nature of rough sleeper statistics and differences in date, it suggests there are more rough sleepers than government statistics suggest.

This is a story we'll be following up, and getting an official response to, for next month. As we go to press, the Simon Community, Housing Justice and the Sock Mob will be conducting a street count prior to the official count.