Is rough sleeping in London really in decline?

The latest statistics from the Greater London Authority (GLA) state that there are now significantly less people sleeping on the streets than there were a year ago. Yet local anecdotal evidence suggests that rough sleeping is not in decline.

Rough sleeping on pavement.

The latest statistics for rough sleeping in London will come as cold comfort for many people.

The latest quarterly rough sleeping figures for London which covers the period July to September 2016 were released earlier this month and they show an eight percent decline in rough sleepers compared to the same period last year.

Jeremy Swain of the homelessness charity Thames Reach commented on the figures saying: “For long-term rough sleepers living on street the reduction has been 14% which suggests the most entrenched are being helped.”

However the decrease in rough sleeping is not consistent when the statistics for each London borough are looked at. Fitzrovia — which appears to have an increasing population of rough sleepers — is on the border of Camden and Westminster and the reports from the two boroughs indicate some shift in the street population as well as an overall decline.

The GLA publishes 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.

The number of rough sleepers counted for the summer period according to the CHAIN report for Camden shows that there were a total of 273, an increase of 52 from last summer. However the number of people classed as “Living on the Street” was 39, a decrease of 2.

In Westminster the report states that there were a total of 814 rough sleepers encountered, that’s 265 less than the previous year. The number classed as “Living on the Street” was 160, a decrease of 32 from the previous year.

Locally people have reported that there is an increase in rough sleepers in Fitzrovia compared with the same time last year. One estate manager wrote to us to say that over the last 10 years “I have noticed a significant increase in rough sleepers occupying doorways or entrances of buildings overnight or sleeping in the vicinity of warm air vents.”

In January this year myself and a colleague counted nine people (seven men and two women) sleeping rough during a 45 minute walk around the Camden part of Fitzrovia. This morning I went out and repeated the count and found 21 rough sleepers (20 men and one woman)*. That’s more than double the amount and seems to concur with other reports we have had.

The cost of accommodation has rocketed in London and much of southern England, and many people have lost their homes due to lack of rent control and an end to their Assured Shorthold Tenancy.

Currently there is the Homelessness Reduction Bill progressing through Parliament which aims to put a greater emphasis on local authorities to prevent people becoming homeless. However, councils have faced cuts from central government and they are no longer a major builder of affordable homes.

I spent some time recently at a planning appeal, brought by a property developer who was resisting building housing including affordable housing on a disused hospital site in Fitzrovia, trying to persuade a government inspector the need for new homes and supporting local planning policies that require this. Sadly my efforts were of little use and the inspector allowed the appeal.

Greater London Authority, Rough sleeping in London (CHAIN reports).

*(I actually counted 28 rough sleepers between 6.15am and 7.00am, but seven of these were on the pavement on the Westminster side of the neighbourhood and not part of the count area. The area I covered is about 25 hectares, a very small part of Bloomsbury ward in Camden.)

If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough in Camden contact Camden Safer Streets at camdensst.com or call 020 7833 7970 / 0808 8000005; and in Westminster contact StreetLink at streetlink.org.uk or call 0300 500 0914. They will make sure details are forwarded to local outreach teams, and you can get an update on what happens.

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