However, for the first time areas which did not physically count were asked to provide estimates this spring and when the figures from these 256 councils were included a further estimated 807 rough sleepers were found – taking the national total to 1,247 rough sleepers on any given night. Considerably higher than the 440 previously thought.
All councils across England will now provide information on rough sleeping.This move follows consultation with homelessness charities and councils and is aimed at getting a clearer picture of the scale of the problem in each area so more targeted support can be provided to some of the most vulnerable in society.
But local areas themselves – councils working with local voluntary agencies – will decide how to do this rather than following Government diktat.
In future, where a council decides not to conduct an official count they will submit a robust estimate of the number of people rough sleeping on their streets on a typical night – consulting with and gathering information from homelessness charities and agencies working in their area.
But where there is a more significant problem this will be done by street counts with representatives of Homeless Link, the national charity for all homelessness agencies, attending counts rather than Government officials as under the old system. This will help ensure those working directly to help people off the streets can best offer their expertise and advice.
New guidance published today recommends that where two neighbouring authorities intend to conduct a street count, they should do so on the same night to avoid missing, or double counting, rough sleepers who move across council boundaries.
On top of this the definition of a rough sleeper has been widened so that not just those that are lying down on street at that particular time are counted, but those that are sitting or standing near their bedding are also included. And for the first time councils will also have to take those sleeping rough in tents into account.
"For too long a supposedly national figure of rough sleepers hasn’t reflected the reality on our streets. Councils and local charities know their areas best. That’s why I am putting them centre stage in assessing the true scale of the problem they face locally. By having accurate numbers and a better national picture of the problem – we can start to help the homeless much more effectively.
"But this isn’t just about crunching numbers – I want this problem to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. That is why I’ve brought Ministers from across eight Government departments together so that the needs of the homeless across the whole country are being met not just in terms of housing, but in also employment, training, rehabilitation and healthcare."
Supporting the changes, Broadway Chief Executive Howard Sinclair said:
"Broadway welcomes the government consultation and making sure each local authority is accountable for identifying as accurately as possible people who sleep rough in their area. It is essential that at this difficult time people who are at the extremes of our communities are included in all aspects of local and central government thinking."
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