Islington homeless count: 43 rough sleepers accounted for in ‘snapshot’ of population
PUBLISHED: 08:02 06 December 2018 | UPDATED: 07:47 07 December 2018
More than 50 volunteers scoured the roads of Islington to count rough sleepers and create a “snapshot” of the borough’s street homeless population on Friday.
It was Islington Council’s first borough wide count since 2009 – the outreach team has produced annual estimates in the interim – and volunteers counted 43 rough sleepers between 1.00am – 4.00am.
People were split into groups of two or three and assigned an Islington ward to cover in search of people bedding down.
Police officers also volunteered, combing the parks, estates and areas they advise the public to steer clear of.
The Gazette was paired with Cllr Una O’Halloran (Lab, Caledonian) and Jon Glackin and Jane from the grassroots homeless outreach group Street Kitchen.
“Imagine you’re trying to sleep somewhere and you don’t want anyone to see you,” said Jon. “It’s a horrible mentality to need to have eh? Searching for people in bushes.
“Let’s hope this becomes history and one day we laugh and go: ‘Do you remember the days when we used to count homeless people?’”
“It would be very interesting to count how many suitable empty buildings we see as we’re going along.”
Cllr O’Halloran added: “We need legislation about homes so that if you’re not living in them then a homeless person or family should be allowed to.”
Jane, an ex-nurse who used to work at the Mildmay HIV clinic before becoming medically retired, had already done outreach in Hackney that day.
“You would never know a lot of people are homeless,” she said. “One of my friends lives in a park but looks absolutely pristine every day.”
Jane, who has been homeless herself, added: “I went through a few traumas in my life and the people who helped me the most were squatters and homeless people.
“Sometimes people are so traumatised on the streets. I’ve had a few soldiers who have never spoken to anybody in tears with me. You need to understand.”
The group toed the border between Islington and Camden, mindful not to stray across borough. They saw more street homeless on the Camden side.
And Jon insisted Islington has a more sympathetic approach to rough sleepers than Camden, claiming the latter is “trying to push them out of the borough”.
Georgina Gould, leader of Camden Council said: “On December 3 we will be launching our new Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy to address areas of challenge within the existing system and seek to improve outcomes for those vulnerable to homelessness.”
One homeless man, anonymised by agreement with the council, told the Gazette: “The numbers are not correct, they’re not there. Euston, King’s Cross, Victoria, Camden are the most packed with homeless people but you get people sleeping on buses too.”
Despite some obvious flaws, like not including people who might usually sleep rough but were holed up in a hostel that night; or those curled up on bus seats; the count was “more accurate” than the data produced in the annual and quarterly Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain) reports, claimed Jon.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) commissions homeless charity St Mungo’s to manage data on the street sleeping population in all London boroughs.
Chain’s most recent report, published earlier this month, estimates there are 27 rough sleepers in Islington. Sixteen fewer than identified in last weeks count.
But Jon, who counted four just in Cally, believes there is “at least 60 and probably more”. He thinks Chain lacks credibility because many rough sleepers don’t trust St Mungo’s, after it admitted to cooperating with the Home Office’s Immigration Control Enforcement (Ice) teams.
Freedom of Information figures obtained by this paper show that between 2015 and 2017 Ice deported 1,351 rough sleeping EU citizens from the UK on the grounds they were violating freedom of movement rights. But only four were from Islington
These “removals” were deemed illegal by a high court judge last December and the Home Office has since “ceased all relevant investigation and action on the immigration status of EEA citizens because of rough sleeping.”
“They’re encouraging people to reconnect now,” said Jon. “That’s the government’s new buzzword.”
A St Mungo’s spokesperson said: “The Information Commissoner Office has concluded that the current information rights practices of St Mungo’s does not raise any concern with them.”
Speaking ahead of the count, Islington’s housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: “It’s brilliant to see so many councillors [the Gazette counted 11], police and volunteers here and it’s really a statement to the power of the community in this borough that so many are giving up their time on a cold winter night trying to help us out with something so important.
“The Government will tell you that despite the past 10 years of austerity the services are still funded but the council has lost 70 per cent of its core government grant.
“But Austerity causes gaping cracks in the private sector and I think a lot of the people we will find tonight will be very vulnerable, it’s terrible to see.
“The crux of it is we need to build more council housing and we need to tackle shorthold tenancies in the private sector, where a landlord can evict people without any particular reason.”