The city has seen a ‘significant drop’ in rough sleepers over a year if the latest council figures are to be believed.
But the council’s method has been criticised by a homeless charity and opposition councillors, who say the real number is double the local authority’s claim.
The council said the latest count, which took place on November 21, showed there are 64 people sleeping rough in the city. That’s compared to 178 people on the streets in November last year.
But not everyone is convinced the figures are accurate.
Jim Deans, who runs charity Sussex Homeless Support (SHS), said: “It was snowing and they tried to open an emergency shelter at 2am. It turned into a shambles. Many of the rough sleepers had run for cover much earlier in the day – we know one in a hostel and he had four others in his room that night, so the count was completely wrong.
“At the moment, there are around 140 rough sleepers and many thousand more homeless in temporary or emergency accommodation, vans, caravans, boats or a mate’s floor.”
Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth agreed, and said: “The public has been deceived sadly. The announced number of 64 is not an estimate of the total number of rough sleepers in the city which can be compared to last year’s figure of 178. The 64 was a head count on a snowy night. They are completely different figures that shouldn’t be compared.”
Cllr Clare Moonan, lead councillor for rough sleeping, said: “Organising a citywide count and co-ordinating teams of volunteers takes time to prepare. Planning takes place well before an accurate weather forecast is available.
“The annual count takes place in November across England. We set the date for our count in October.”
“We know that when temperatures drop some people can find shelter for a night or so, as a short term measure, with friends or family. This is why we don’t rely on the annual street count alone to provide us with evidence about the number of people are rough sleeping in the city.
“Regular monitoring and street counts support the findings of the annual count that this year the numbers are going down.”
What’s the difference between an estimate and a count?
There are two methods used to record annual rough sleeping numbers – an ‘estimate’ and a ‘count’.
Each year the council sends the data to the Government, which compares all local authority homeless figures.
The council said it reintroduced the ‘count’ method this year following discussions with the Government over ‘how other areas conduct their counts’.
It had used the ‘estimate’ method for the previous three years; last year’s estimate for rough sleepers in the city was 178 compared to 64 this year.
A count records the number of people bedded down in the city after midnight and through the early hours on a particular night. An estimate involves a count, plus data from local partners to provide an agreed figure for one night.
Green councillor David Gibson said: “Labour are wrong to switch to a rough sleeper ‘count’ from an ‘estimate’.
“Counts are known to miss finding rough sleepers. This suits the Government’s and presumably the council’s political agendas to exaggerate progress dealing with rough sleeping. It is shameful.
“In the past, for each year there was both an estimate and a count. On average counts found 45 per cent of the number identified by rough sleeper estimates!
“Neighbouring Lewes council did an estimate this year and we should have done the same to properly measure progress since our estimate last November.”
Cllr Moonan said: “The annual count figure of 64 is our official figure, following the rules laid down the by Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.”