How Do We Count The Homeless?

Each year local authorities up and down the country have to set their budgets to provide a range of services for the residents of their Boroughs. But there is one section of our communities that is notoriously difficult to pin down – the homeless.

As many homeless people move around from area to area in search of accommodation, knowing how much of council funds to allocate to meet their needs is guesswork at the best of times. Counting those that are referred into the system because they have recently became homeless is one method, but what about those who are off the radar – the sofa-surfers who kip at a friend’s house for a few nights before moving on, and rough-sleepers who don’t show up on any surveys or government statistics?

The failure to adequately quantify the size of the homeless population is highlighted in a fascinating article on theconversation.com website. The authors, Adele Irving and Oliver Moss, both Senior Research Fellows at Northumbria University, also point to the dearth of qualitative data available on the needs of the homeless.

This is because there’s a big difference between the number of people who the state recognise as homeless and how many people actually are – the distinction between the “statutory” homeless and the “non-statutory” or “single” homeless.

The “statutory” homeless are those who apply to local authorities as homeless, and are accepted as such. People are only accepted if the council deems that they are eligible for housing support, or can be classed as being “unintentionally homeless” or in “priority need”. So information on statutory homelessness is readily available because all local authorities have to report the number of statutory homelessness applications they received (and “acceptances” made) to the government on a quarterly basis.

“Single” homeless are those without dependents and not entitled to be housed by local authorities. This makes true figures very difficult to confirm as they are outside the system. Some of these are visible on our streets, but most remain out of sight – “hidden” in bed and breakfasts or squats and on the floors and couches of friends and family. There is no effective method of counting “single” homelessness, so these people don’t appear in government statistics.

A best guess is that there were over two million single homeless people in England in 2013!

To find out more, click here.