Counting rough sleepers in the London Borough of Camden

Camden Council says the are only five rough sleepers in the whole of the borough, far fewer than neighbouring Westminster, Islington or the City of London, according to the official figures published in February. But anyone walking through Camden late at night or in the early morning will think that five is not a credible number, nor does it correspond with data published by the Greater London Authority (GLA).

cover of rough sleepers report.

Camden told the government there are only five rough sleepers in the whole of the borough on a single night.

All local authorities were asked in the autumn of 2014 to count the number of people sleeping on its streets. Each local authority throughout England was told either to go out and do a count or do an estimate. “Rough Sleeping counts and estimates should take place between the 1st October and the 30th November,” they were told. The count is designed to give a snapshot of the number of rough sleepers on a single night.

Camden submitted an estimate of 5; Islington an estimate of 21, City of London did a count of 50; and Westminster Council did a count of 265.

Far more detailed figures of rough sleepers in London are also published quarterly by the GLA. The information is derived from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), a multi-agency database recording information about rough sleepers and the wider street population in London. CHAIN, which is commissioned and funded by the GLA and managed by St Mungo’s Broadway, represents the UK’s most detailed and comprehensive source of information about rough sleeping.

These reports give numbers for people known to be living on the streets as well as intermittent rough sleepers.

According to these figures in the autumn of 2014 there were 49 rough sleepers classed as “living on the streets” in Camden — ten times more than what Camden Council says there are.

The number for Islington was 18, for City of London 53, and for Westminster it was 212. All these figures roughly correspond to what the individual boroughs reported to the government.

In 2009 Camden Council congratulated itself on very low numbers of rough sleepers in the borough — just six on that occasion.

A charity worker at the time went on record to say: “We are aware of a systematic programme by Camden Council officials — in particular, outreach workers and the police — to move rough sleepers out of Camden in order to keep numbers down.” Police involvement with outreach and council workers often “immediately precedes any count that takes place in order to produce the best numbers possible”.

In 2014 Camden did not go out and count but did an estimate instead.

Camden Council has however defended its statement on rough sleeper numbers. Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Cllr Jonathan Simpson told Fitzrovia News: “Camden has long been a leader in London and nationally on responding to issues around rough sleeping and street activity.

“We provide services people sleeping rough can access through The Safer Streets Team (SST), which works directly on the streets with people sleeping rough and engaged in street activity, such as begging, street drinking, street based sex work and street based drug use. It offers services such as accommodation or alcohol treatment to help them move away from a street based lifestyle.

“We have also recently launched an innovative “App” that allows members of the public to report rough sleeping and street activity to them directly. This has resulted in those clients most in need getting the services they require more quickly.

“We are proud of our performance to date, which remains good despite levels of rough sleeping rising nationally and across the capital.

“Council services are also working closely with the police to tackle issues relating to street based crime,” said Cllr Simpson.

A spokesperson also explained how they arrived at the estimated number of rough sleepers.

Camden says its methodology is overseen by the national organisation Homeless Link. “The key difference in the figures is that the higher figure [209*] is based on the total number of people who are met sleeping rough during the recording period whereas the third quarter street count figures are based on the number of people sleeping out on a given night in November”.

A spokesperson explained why they did an estimate rather than an actual count. “We moved from physical counts to estimates a few years ago as we had consistently returned counts of less than 10 since the middle of the last decade. This enables us to focus our resources on those rough sleepers who have been living on the streets for the longest, who are the most vulnerable and at the highest risk of harm.”

* A total of 209 rough sleepers were contacted by outreach workers in Camden during October to December 2104. Source: CHAIN Quarterly report Oct-Dec 2014.

Government Report: Rough Sleeping in England, Autumn 2014.

GLA Reports: Rough Sleeping in London (CHAIN).

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