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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Community London count

May 05 2010
Disturbing answers emerge to March survey questions

Hot on the heels of our 'rough count' [April issue - we estimated London's rough sleeper population by compiling the numbers in cold weather shelters], the Simon Community has published the results of its latest bi-annual street count.

Volunteers from the Simon Community and Housing Justice counted 109 people sleeping rough in the borough of Westminster between midnight and 2.30am on 26 March.

This matches the government's own figure for Westminster from its Total Street Count 2009. However, the Simon Community's report notes that almost all volunteer-run winter shelters and government-funded services were running at full capacity. And as most winter shelters in London closed after their count was carried out, the number of 109 people is likely to be considerably higher now.

Interestingly, the volunteers also carried out a street survey of 69 rough sleepers. The responses ranged from a reluctance to take up the offer of a hostel bed or accept benefits, to highlighting problems faced by people from the EU. The survey also covered:

29 of respondents had been offered no help to secure accommodation
20 had been given a hostel; but of those, 18 were back on the street
Five had received help from charities, such as the Two Step rent-deposit scheme run by Hope Worldwide.

Around half of the respondents talked about enforcement tactics being used against them, many noting that use of these methods had increased recently. Methods reported include:
Being woken up and asked to move on in the night
Attempted deportation
48-hour ASBOs, used repeatedly when a magistrate had dismissed a case.

While four respondents reported good experiences of police officers, many others had less positive encounters. One person was "dragged by their sleeping bag by police officers from Charing Cross Homeless Unit" in the middle of the night from their sleeping spot by the Army and Navy shop in Howick Place, Victoria. Another was held in police custody for 24 hours for urinating by a tree.

Support needs
11 said help was needed to find jobs and permanent accommodation
Seven said more hostels and day centres were needed
Four said they found outreach workers unhelpful because they were patronising, too young or didn't listen
Three had faced problems accessing medical services for HIV, diabetes and epilepsy

Suggestions included helping people in their first six months on the streets and providing more food in the afternoon.