The annual Rough Sleeping Count sees local authorities across the country record everybody who is sleeping outside, on the street, in doorways and other places in a single winter’s night.
Council and homeless outreach staff check every street within their area and talk to every rough sleeper they encounter. Accompanying them are volunteer, independent verifiers to ensure that every street is checked and every rough sleeper recorded accurately.
This year, Marble Arch’s Head of Operations Mike Fairmaner acted as a verifier and accompanied Ella from St Mungo’s, the rough sleeping charity that is commissioned by Westminster City Council to provide rough sleeping outreach services, overnight on 28 November.
Meeting at the control centre for the operation just off Vauxhall Bridge Road at 22:45 on Thursday night 25 people were gathered for the night’s count. These included other volunteers, staff from the City Council, St Mungo’s and the Police. After a coffee and a debrief, Mike was paired up with Ella to cover half of her regular patch around Embankment and The Strand.
At 11.45pm they headed for Embankment and found several people over the next few hours. The temperature was nearly freezing so many people were huddled deep in sleeping bags, trying to keep warm. Ella spoke to every person, asking if they were alright and explaining the support on offer and how they could get help. She knew many of them already.
Every person’s name was recorded, along with their precise location and for those that St Mungo’s already knew about, their reference number. The count included people in tents, although care was taken not to intrude if they did not want to engage.
Ella and Mike finished their count soon after 2am and returned to the control centre, where the records were handed over and duly verified as accurate.
The experience has given us a great insight into the work of the Council and St Mungo’s on their support for people who end up sleeping rough, and the care of the outreach workers in dealing with them. It’s reassuring to know that outreach services do regularly visit our area and that offers of help are made.
We would urge anyone who is moved to help the homeless to support homeless charities. Find out more about helping rough sleepers in Westminster via the Hidden Network.
National Statistics on rough sleeping are published online.