Homeless Numbers Underestimated

The number of people sleeping rough in England has been underestimated by officials, a drugs charity has claimed. The Manchester-based charity Lifeline surveyed drug users at its needle exchange and calculated between 230 and 400 people in Manchester were homeless.

But a government-approved count put the number of homeless at seven. Lifeline said the official surveying process used nationally was flawed as counters avoided “dangerous” areas and only included those “bedded down”. Lifeline found that 80% of its clients were homeless.

The charity claimed the official count was carried out at random on one night of the year and that counters were told to avoid entering areas regarded as dangerous. It also said that Manchester City Council’s government-approved count only included people who were clearly bedded down for the night, when many homeless ran off if they felt threatened.

The government-approved system for counting rough sleepers in England has been in place nearly ten years. It has been used as the basis for official claims that rough sleeping has been reduced by 73% in England over the past nine years.

Manchester City Council said it never claimed its “snapshot count” painted a full picture of homelessness and did not agree with Lifeline’s analysis. The executive member for neighbourhood services, councillor Eddy Newman, said: “Our annual head count of rough sleepers, carried out in line with methodology devised by central government and homelessness agencies, is used to monitor the extent of rough sleeping in the city.

“It is a snapshot and allows us to monitor any changes in the numbers and allow us to adapt our service accordingly. We have never claimed that the numbers of rough sleepers found on the head count – which was seven last time – represents the total number in the city. However we would refute absolutely any claim that suggested that the numbers of people rough sleeping in the city is or could be anywhere near 400.”