The government has just released the latest figures for the number of rough sleepers in England and Wales in their Rough Sleeping Report Autumn 2015. This shows that 3,569 people were sleeping rough last autumn, of which 940 were in London. This is a 27% increase in London since autumn 2014. But charities that work in the homelessness sector, including members of the South London Day Centres Strategic Partnership, know that this is not the whole picture.
The Lewisham street count last November found only 9 rough sleepers. But since 1 December, the 999 Club Winter Night Shelter has taken in 63 homeless people, of whom 46 alone had a Lewisham connection. On the day of the actual street count in Wandsworth, Spires in Tooting Bec had 25 rough sleepers using its services – over 2.5 times the number of people included in the official count. These are much higher numbers than official figures suggest and give a better snapshot of the scale of the problem.
Peter Wood, Chief Executive of the 999 Club in Lewisham, said “rough sleepers are careful not to be found because they are afraid of being attacked. The figures will always give an incomplete picture. More important there is a huge population of hidden homeless, people who are staying with friends, sofa surfing and finding a temporary roof in other ways. These people drift on and off the street, their housing situation is highly unstable. The government needs to collect reliable data. The only organisations which can provide that are the organisations that work with homeless people, such as the 999 Club and Spires.”