October 2007 issue of Southwark Life Page 4
Quote from the councils rough sleeper coordinator:
"I reckon there is a daily average of 14 rough sleepers in Southwark"
You can find at least 2/3 and sometimes more outside John Harvard library every night and a couple more at the top end of BHS.I find it hard to believe you wouldn't come across a good number around Waterloo. Fourteen in the whole of Southwark seems far too low a figure to me. I wonder what the real munber is?
One night earlier this year I walked home from Fabric (in Clerkenwell) to Borough, taking a rather mazy route. I counted ten rough sleepers, including two on BHS and three at London Bridge station. I refuse to believe there are only 100 rough sleepers in London. I saw three in broad daylight (and yes, they did appear to be asleep) earlier this week on Finchley Road between Swiss Cottage and the O2.
The Rough Sleeper statistics are only an indicator and being statistics according to Disraeli they are worse than lies and damned lies.
As soon as something like this becomes a yardstick for measuring the effectiveness of local authorities then there will be ways to bring the number down through manipulation, poor count technique or through chance.
To begin with, the rough sleeper count in most local authority areas only occurs twice a year at most and may be restricted on these occasions to a count on a single night; it can therefore be easy to "engineer" low figures through determined efforts to get individuals into hostels/shelters at the time of the count, or, more innocently, to end up with low figures due to a variety of factors.
The definition of a rough sleeper also only includes those who have "bedded down" ie in a sleeping bag or other "bedding" and not those who are wandering the streets, begging, sitting or otherwise engaged on the streets.
The count also only includes those who are sleeping in visible locations and as a result, disregarding other manipulative tactics, the count would be highly dependent upon the time it is taken. I know of a few rough sleepers who would be visible until a certain time in the evening (trying to get donations from the public) but then disappear into underground car park entrances or other sheltered positions to sleep and are therefore out of sight and out of the count.
As mentioned above (and certainly in the early days of rough sleeper counts )there can be a concerted effort to get individuals into accommodation around the count as the count fails to account for people who are in and out of hostels regularly or other people in vulnerable housing situations, and it also takes no account of possible encouragement of shelters to extend their opening hours around the time of the count to avoid higher numbers on the register which is known to have occurred in some areas.
In all, as most people can patently see on your average night walking through London, the rough sleeper count is a bit of a misleading statistic.
That said, underlying adjusted numbers have decreased over time though only into the less visible and more insidious issue of vulnerable, temporary and inadequate housing.
It may have been much improved over the years, but I find myself more in agreement with gareth rather than mapmaker on this one. We do need to be concerned about homelessness and, moreover, the causes of it.
Through my work I used to encounter a lot of street-homeless people, the majority of whom had severe drug addictions (the others used purely alcohol) and some of whom, despite having temporary, or even permanent accommodation, said that they chose to live on the streets. One woman in Northampton who was three years younger than me but looked at least ten years older and who funded her crack and heroin habit with street prostitution springs immediately to mind. She viewed her life as being on the streets, despite the local authority providing her with a flat as she was deemed vulnerable (which is a very hard target to reach for housing purposes) and chose to bed down in car parks or at the back of derelict properties, even in the winter, with her "friends." She had no interest at that stage in trying to improve her lot. Her mother, an apparently nice middle-class woman who was reasonably affluent, was tearing her hair out over the situation. No one had any idea what had caused this young lady to end up in this situation. Given the wrong twists and turns, I am convinced that any one of us could end up like this.
Self-flagellation is not the way forward, but I think a little regard as to the reasons why this situation is still allowed to occur in our society should be had.