Birmingham rough sleeper numbers 'far higher than official figures'

Birmingham rough sleeper numbers ‘far higher than official figures’

The number of people sleeping rough in Birmingham is much higher than official figures show, according to one of the heads of a charity trying to get people off the streets.

The rough sleeper count published by the Government in January showed that there 57 rough sleepers in the city, up from 55 in 2016.

But this only captures a small part of the problem, according to Peter Stephenson, Assistant Chief Executive of the YMCA in Birmingham.

He said: “Unfortunately nobody really knows the scale of under-counting. But services that deal with rough sleepers know they deal with a lot more people than the official statistics would suggest.”

The YMCA provides a range of services for people who are or have been homeless. It houses 320 people, including former rough sleepers at a site in Northfield.

Rough sleeper figures are published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, based on surveys conducted by local councils.

Officials and volunteers take to the streets overnight and count the number of rough sleepers. But this inevitably means that many rough sleepers are missed, said Mr Stephenson.

“Those who do the rough sleeper counts do their best. But certainly, if I was rough sleeping I would try and sleep somewhere where I am not going to be seen, somewhere where I am not going to be assaulted or urinated on or whatever else might happen to you if you are rough sleeping.

“So you would tend to hide.

“The rough sleeping teams will know a lot of these places where people tend to hide, but in a city the size of Birmingham I doubt they even find a quarter of the actual numbers.

“That is purely a guess, I have no evidence to back it up other than my sense of the scale of the problem.”

The problem had got worse in recent years because of funding cuts, he said.

“It has steadily got worse over the years, but certainly the last eight or nine years it has massively escalated, across the country but particularly here in Birmingham.”



Two rough sleepers in Birmingham city centre.

A Government programme called Supporting People, introduced in 2003, had provided help to homeless people, he said.

But funding for this scheme stopped being ring-fenced in 2009. In other words, councils were told they were free to spend the money on other things.

Then councils faced cuts in funding from central government. They were forced to reduce spending, and money that had previously been spent on reducing homelessness was often diverted to social care.

“There was a whole set of choices local authorities had to make. As the cuts continued to bite, the Supporting People budget lost a bigger and bigger slice.

“That happened in Birmingham as it did in other councils across the country.

“As those services were taken away, people who were homeless didn’t get the help they used to have to be able to sort their lives out. And so they were much more likely to end up on the streets, rather than getting the help and support they needed before they ended up sleeping rough.”

Catching people early on is key, according to the YMCA.

Only a small proportion of homeless people are sleeping on the streets. Others might be staying with neighbours or friends or relatives, and help at this stage can ensure their problems don’t get worse.

“One of my concerns is that politicians understandably focus om the very visible bits of homelessness, the rough sleeping and the begging.

“But we need to be dealing with all kinds of homelessness.

“People don’t immediately leave wherever they were accommodated and and sleep on the streets.

“Usually there is a process of decline.



Volunteers from Muslim Aid hand out winter rucksacks to Birmingham rough sleepers.

“What I would like to see is people being caught at an early stage, before they develop drug or alcohol problems, before mental health problems start to get well entrenched because of the trauma and difficult situation people find themselves in.

“We need to catch people early on, when things are starting to fall apart, rather than waiting for people to hit absolute rock bottom, when it becomes a lot more difficult and costly to turn around.”

Mr Stephenson welcomed the Government’s announcement that the West Midlands is to be one of three pilot areas receiving funding as part of a new scheme to cut homelessness, based on the Housing First project that has already been successful in other parts of Europe. However, he said he was waiting to learn more about how exactly the money will be spent.

“Hopefully it will be a combination of housing and support, and if so then it will definitely help.”

0

Latest Tweets