Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Sometimes one plus one doesn't make two!

I came across an interesting item in Inside Housing today.

It appears that Grant Shapps, the Conservative shadow housing minister has stated that the way rough sleepers counts are done by local authorities is to be overhauled. As I have taken part in a number of rough sleeper counts I have always found it ridiculous that we have had to discount people who to the average person in the street would consider a "rough sleeper". On the previous counts I have been on I have been told not to count a number of people. An example of a disregarded person would be someone sitting on a bench at 1am, wearing a number of coats and all his worldly belongings next to him as he is not laying down and asleep. I have always been of the opinion that the counts that I have taken part were merely there to provide the government with the answers they wanted. It also helps that the counts took place in months when cold weather could be expected, thus driving some rough sleepers into night shelters.

I came across this report entitled "Roughly Sleeping" by Mr Shapps dated November 2007. The comparison between the governments figures and the figures supplied by The Simon Community, a charity working with London's street homeless is quite jaw dropping


Anonymous said...

You may also like to know, that we on the streets know! when count is going to happen,as the word gets out its going to happen,NOT SURE which day of week, but know the week..time to dissappear for a few days....
check it out
ask anyone whos
been on streets more than 1 yr

Jim said...

The count is wildly inaccurate for a number of other reasons. It is limited to only one of the many strategies homeless people adopt -sleeping in visible places in city centres.

In London, no count appears to be made in outer London areas where there are certainly people sleeping rough, as and where opportunities are available.

Sleeping in cars or vans is common (not counting people who have set themselves up as travellers in what are formally described as "vehicles designed or adapted for use as a residence".)

Council estates, the canal and its surrounds, and (still) parts of the railways all offer places to sleep surreptitiously.

In fact, staying covert and undetected is the essence of many homeless people's strategies, so skippering still goes on. (Sleeping in derelict buildings, but both legally and psychologically very different from squatting. Someone skippering will have a concealed and often subtle means of entry, will only use the place at night and does not take possession, change the locks etc. like a squatter. The location of a skipper is kept as valuable secret knowledge, shared perhaps with a couple of trusted friends, perhaps with nobody.)

Experienced homeless people who chose to sleep in parks will always choose locked parks rather than open ones such as Hampstead Heath or Wanstead Flats. This requires either the agility to climb railings or an ability to hide at locking-up time, but it is both safer and avoids the hassle of being woken up by dogs and their owners, who are out at surprising hours of the night. I know one fairly small local park where a derelict bandstand and a couple of other structures are probably sheltering 15 people on most nights.

These are only some of the covert strategies people use. There are at least a dozen others, some of which it wouldn't be wise to put on the internet.

Though it cannot be proved, I think it probable that the number of homeless people using covert strategies considerably exceeds the number using visible ones. Some people having been living this way for years. The visible strategies tend to be associated with particular ways of life which some people using the covert ones wish to keep well away from. Others simply find they work better.