Islington rough sleeper count: Volunteers count 51 people bedding down in streets – up from 43
- Credit: Archant
Volunteers counted 51 rough sleepers on the streets of Islington during the annual count on Friday – an increase of 8 people since last year.
The count gives a "snapshot" of the number of people bedding down outside, but the true figure is higher as it does not include those sleeping on public transport or in late night restaurants - or those standing or sitting near their bedding are not counted.
Volunteers are split into groups, while the police patrol the parks and estates. The Gazette teamed up with Islington Council's street population co-ordinator, Sarah Turley, to search half of Clerkenwell ward.
We counted eight rough sleepers in doorways but there were also some standing up near their sleeping bags. Sarah said: "We are getting people into accommodation but what we are continuing to see is people arriving [on the streets], and we are just not stemming that flow."
She believes the introduction of the online-only universal credit system, where the first payment can take five weeks, is "messing people up". She also blames short-term tenancies and a lack of affordable housing.
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We had not even left Upper Street when the harsh reality of life on the streets was underscored by a rough sleeper with a wounded leg being denied free passage onto a bus, despite showing the driver her injury.
Another homeless woman, "L", is 41 and has been homeless since she was 19. She grew up in foster care and children's homes in Hackney before she started sleeping on the streets.
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L has been "in and out of prison" but has been back out on the roads for a year. She suffers from epilepsy and self harms.
"My dad was an alcoholic and my brother was a heroin and crack addict, obviously I'm a user," she said. "I got drugs when I was 14 because of my brother. It has been pretty tough, really. My daughter is 22 and lives in Spain. You have [the] Crisis [appeal] at Christmas, it's only, what, for two weeks? You get used to being somewhere and then get kicked out in the cold again."
It was 2am and she was alone on a quiet street.
"I'm a female on my own. I don't want to be out here. I think I've had one hostel in all them years I've been on the streets. I want to be in the warm," she said.
L has never voted and doesn't know who she'd support in the general election.
Asked what she'd change if she were prime minister, she said: "I would open more shelters for people, definitely.
"Even if it was just a church open for the night with camp beds so people have somewhere safe. Everyone is getting pneumonia and things like that."
She added: "Sometimes I didn't mind prison because I got off drugs. I had my job. I had nothing to worry about.
"That's the level, it was that cold out here I was just getting nicked to get off the streets."
Sarah arranged for a colleague to take L to a hostel where she can sleep for a night or two and have a shower. They took her details and asked her to visit the council office in Upper Street on Friday to see if they can help her find some form of accommodation.
The council originally told us 57 people were counted, but the final number has since been verified as 51. It is believed the initial figure was higher because some people were double-counted.