Homeless count method change to go before standards committee

Officials have rejected claims they have fudged the figures when counting how many rough sleepers are on the streets of Brighton and Hove.

Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 1:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 2:25 pm

A close examination of the figures was ordered after a dramatic but controversial fall in the official count of rough sleeper numbers in the city.

Conservative Councillors Robert Nemeth, Nick Taylor and Mary Mears requested the report to Audit and Standards Committee after a change in method saw numbers fall from 178 in 2017 to 64 street sleepers in November 2018.

Rough Sleeper Brighton Geograph 5690580 By Mike Pennington

The method changed from an estimation to directly counting the number of people found sleeping on the streets on what turned out to be a snowy night.

In their letter to committee chair Councillor Joe Miller, they said: “We are calling for a report to clear up the matter properly to avoid the council falling into disrepute.

“We wish to know why it was claimed that the numbers of rough sleeping had fallen when there does not appear to be any data to support this.”

Brighton and Hove was one of the authorities criticised in the national press for changing its method from an estimate to a count.

The report going before the committee on Tuesday (March 12) said: “Both the count methodology used in 2018 and the estimate single-night snapshots provide a legitimate way of indicating the number of people sleeping rough and assessing change over time.

“The statistic calculated in any one year may be impacted by a number of different factors including the methodology applied and the weather on the date the data was collected. ”

The count date was set six weeks in advance and the independent verifier said in their report the unexpected snow fall may have disrupted rough sleepers.

Although rough sleeper figures do not include people in hostels, emergency accommodation or most night shelters including the city’s church night shelters, which opened earlier than usual last year.

However, the figure did include those in the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol shelter (SWEP).

The count is also carried out late at night to rule out street beggars and others who do not sleep on the streets.

The figures are confirmed by the charity Homeless Link, which is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to validate rough sleeper counts.

Members of the Audit and Standards Committee will discuss the report when it meets in public from 4pm at Hove Town Hall on Tuesday March 12.