Is Camden Council telling the truth on rough sleeping?

Camden Council has told the government that there were only 15 rough sleepers on a “typical night” in the whole of the borough during the autumn of 2015, far fewer than the number in statistics published by the Greater London Authority.

Woman sleeping on the pavement.

A woman sleeping on the street in Bloomsbury ward, London Borough of Camden. Photo: Fitzrovia News.

Camden didn’t bother to go out and count rough sleepers but did an estimate instead, yet it has the third highest street population in London according to GLA statistics.

Fitzrovia News compared the “typical night” figures collected by the government and published in February with figures 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.

Table of statistics.

Chain Quarterly Report – Camden – October-December 2015. Source: GLA.

The CHAIN report (Q3 2015-16) for October to December 2015 published by the GLA states that in Camden 244 individuals were recorded by outreach teams as bedded down on the streets. Of these, 58 people were classed as “living on the streets”, 100 “intermittent” rough sleepers, as well as 92 “new” rough sleepers.

We also examined the figures for the six boroughs which, according to CHAIN, had the greatest numbers of rough sleepers classed as “living on the streets” between October and December 2015. For each borough we compared the CHAIN “living on the streets” figure with the autumn “typical night” figure the borough reported to the government.

Chart showing rough sleeper numbers reported by CHAIN and boroughs.

Camden reported a low figure compared with other boroughs. Graphic: Fitzrovia News.

Three of the boroughs — Westminster, Southwark and Lambeth — gave a “typical night” figure that was higher than the CHAIN figure. Of the other three boroughs Camden gave the lowest “typical night” figure compared with the CHAIN figure.

Fitzrovia News also did a sample count in a small area of Camden’s Bloomsbury ward. Two volunteer reporters counted nine people (seven men and two women) sleeping rough between 8.00am and 8.45am on a cold Saturday morning in January 2016. Our sample was of a small part of one ward. Camden has 18 wards.

It is highly unlikely that we would encounter more than half of Camden’s street population in such a small area.

Fitzrovia News can only conclude that Camden Council is either misleading the government on rough sleeper numbers in the borough or is incompetent and not estimating the rough sleeper population accurately.

However, Camden has defended its estimate and says our analysis is incorrect.

In a response to Fitzrovia News it said its methodology is sound and complies with government guidelines which state they can use local information to give a robust estimate of rough sleepers on a single night.

Councillor Jonathan Simpson, cabinet member for community safety, said:

“A shortage of affordable accommodation, government benefit cuts and changes to the way charities are funded are causing a sharp increase in rough sleeping across the capital, with increasingly fewer resources to help people before they are forced to sleep rough.

“Despite this, it is vital that we do everything we can to tackle rough sleeping and despite facing our own significant financial challenges, this continues to be a priority for Camden.

“From our work with our specialist services and local partners, we know that there are around 60 people who meet the accepted definition of ‘living on the streets’ in the borough. This does not mean that all this group sleep rough every night. The figure of 15 represents those sleeping rough on one particular night in November last year and was calculated using specific methodology set out by central Government for their national report.”

Fitzrovia News approached several charities working with rough sleepers but no-one was prepared to comment on the figures that Camden Council submitted to the government.

A year ago Camden estimated there were only five rough sleepers on a typical night in the whole of the borough.

*London had 940 rough sleepers in autumn 2015. — Rough sleeping in England: autumn 2015.

*In the period October – December 2015 outreach teams in London recorded 1,311 “new rough sleepers”; there were 474 people recorded who were deemed to be “living on the streets”; and 1,121 people classed as “intermittent rough sleepers”. — Rough sleeping in London (CHAIN reports).

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