Rough sleeping in Fitzrovia, Camden, Westminster, and London

Most people would have noticed over the last 12 months a dramatic increase in the number of people sleeping rough in London. In my neighbourhood I’ve noticed a significant increase. This is a subject that I will be writing about in Fitzrovia News for our forthcoming print edition out in June. Fitzrovia News has now published this story here.

Below are my notes and initial thoughts on this story and some analysis of the statistics on rough sleeping in London. 

Cover of report.Having acquired a copy of the latest report to the Board of The Fitzrovia Partnership Business Improvement District (5 March 2015) I am concerned about some of the things written in regard to rough sleepers and street begging. The following is taken from page 9 of the 35 page report (my emphasis in bold).

Rough sleeping and begging continue to be commonplace, especially during the run-up to Christmas. Professional beggars can be found operating especially at the northern end of Tottenham Court Road. Roma gypsies from Marble Arch are also trying to operate in the area.

The Partnership has started working closely with Camden Safer Streets Team and those agencies which support street people. We have been invited to Street Tasking meetings where the subjects are discussed individually. It is clear that the vast majority of street people could have accommodation should they engage with the Council. It has been noted that many see the begging opportunities in Fitzrovia and London as being profitable so they would rather be here than in their hometowns where accommodation is readily available. It has also been noted that many may be dependent on alcohol, drugs and other illegal substances. We continue to undertake a reporting role to the Safer Streets Team who will engage with them to reach a positive outcome for all.

On page 22 of the report it says:

Begging from Roma travellers is on the increase following crack downs around the Marble Arch area.

On pages 27 and 29 of the same report the following is stated:

There is enough accommodation in Camden for homeless people to be placed if they wish to engage.

Before I go on to criticise what is written in the report I should point out that the government’s official statistics on rough sleeping in London were published on 26 February and that these official statistics stated a 37 percent increase in rough sleeping compared to the previous year. I’ll return to these statistics later.

Now the first thing that concerns me about the Fitzrovia BID report is the attention drawn to “Roma” and how they are “trying to operate in the area”. Much has been written about a group of Roma sleeping rough at Marble Arch. While I do not doubt there may be some Roma begging on the Euston Road, the report draws attention to this ethnic group and no other. In other words, it singles out the Roma as a problem. Much has been written elsewhere about discrimination against Roma as well as Gypsies and Travellers. There’s even a Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association. What also concerns me is that staff from Camden Council were at the meeting and that no-one appears to have challenged the crime report which singled-out the Roma as a problem. There is currently no elected member of Camden Council currently attending meetings.

The second thing that concerns me about this report is that it says: “It is clear that the vast majority of street people could have accommodation should they engage with the Council.”

And later on it actually says: “The following information can be fed back to your employees: There is enough accommodation in Camden for homeless people to be placed if they wish to engage” (pages 27 and 29).

Here the report is using the term homeless rather than rough sleepers. There are many more homeless than there are rough sleepers, yet The Fitzrovia Partnership report uses the terms interchangeably.

According to the charity Shelter there are 526 households homeless in Camden.

What the report is saying  flies in the face of official government statistics that show a 37 percent increase in rough sleeping in London over the past year. We are currently experiencing a housing crisis. Yet the Fitzrovia BID report says that the “vast majority” of rough sleepers can be accommodated.

This report is written by an organisation that is working in a public-private partnership with Camden Council and has an income of around £800k a year (see financial report pp14-18). At best it is writing nonsense, at worst it is spreading disinformation and prejudice. The attitude has echoes of the Grand Central Partnership in New York City which used homeless hit squads.

The report also refers to the Safer Streets Team (SST) “a street outreach team commissioned by the London Borough of Camden to end street homelessness and reduce street based anti-social behaviour”. SST is run by Crime Reduction Initiatives a registered charity. Having an organisation called “Crime Reduction Initiatives” to end street homelessness suggests that being a rough sleeper is a crime.

If ever there was a charity in need of re-branding itself, it is this lot. (As a Camden resident I report rough sleeping to the Safer Streets Team, something I am increasingly unhappy about doing for a number of reasons.)

You can read the full report here: The-Fitzrovia-Partnership-report-05-March-2015 (pdf 9.3MB).

Now back to the statistics about rough sleeping. According to the official statistics published in February there were 742 people sleeping rough on the streets of London. For the whole of England the number was 2,744. London has 27 percent of England’s rough sleepers. These figures came from a “snapshot” taken from street counts and estimates “carried out by local authorities between 1 October and 30 November 2014”.

However, according to Crisis, the charity for single homeless people, the number of rough sleepers in London (and probably England as a whole) is hugely underestimated:

“[T]hese figures are a snapshot taken on one night and fall well short of what local agencies report over the course of a year. 6,508 people slept rough at some point in London during 2013/14, an increase of one per cent on the previous year’s total of 6,437 but this is more than double the number six years ago.” — Rough Sleeping, Crisis.org.uk

If we look at the official government statistics at the London borough level, we get some interesting results.

According to the spreadsheet Camden Council did not bother to count rough sleepers in the autumn of 2014 for the official government stats. Instead, Camden estimated the number. And that number? 5 rough sleepers for the whole of the borough. Yes, that’s five. I’m not kidding.

But Camden have form on this, albeit under a different administration. In 2009 the council claimed the number of rough sleepers had been reduced to only six. At the time a charity worker pointed out that there was something fishy going on. “We are also aware of a systematic programme by Camden Council officials – in particular, outreach workers and the police – to move rough sleepers out of Camden in order to keep numbers down.” Police involvement with outreach and council workers often “immediately precedes any count that takes place in order to produce the best numbers possible”.

Neighbouring Westminster City Council actually bothered to go out and count and came up with 265 rough sleepers.

On the other side of Camden, Islington Council did not bother to count the number of rough sleepers. Its estimate of 21 rough sleepers is at least more realistic than Camden’s.

Source of information here https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/rough-sleeping-in-england-autumn-2014

But a more accurate analysis can be gained by comparing those statistics with those published by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) in January 2015.

These statistics (CHAIN quarterly report) give a range of data from a lower number for long-term rough sleepers to a combined figure recording new and intermittent rough sleepers. Camden had between 49 to 209 rough sleepers recorded during October to December 2014, Westminster had 212 to 885, and Islington 18 to 59. The true figure for each borough will be somewhere between the two numbers. Source: http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/chain-quarterly-reports

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