New survey of rough sleepers in London

 A new head count - carried out by the Simon Community in central London in the early hours of Saturday morning - reveals little change in the number of people sleeping on the streets. Contrary to reports from the government's Rough Sleepers Unit (RSU), which claimed recently that there had been a two thirds drop in the number of people sleeping rough, the survey found little difference from last year's figures. The 25-strong team, which focussed on Camden, Westminster, Southwark, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, the City of London, Lambeth, and Tower Hamlets, found 224 people sleeping out of doors, on a night when temperatures dipped below five degrees centigrade. On the same night, the charity phoned 50 hostels in Central London. Out of 3,090 beds, only five were available. The beds in question were only available to people under the age of 26. They pointed out that in addition to those sleeping rough, there are over 30,000 Londoners living in temporary accommodation. Nationally the figure is more than 400,000. Simon Burke, chairman of the Simon Community, said the charity were very concerned that the much-publicised 'Rough Sleepers Initiative' is not working. He said: "The 'Zero Tolerance' campaign has driven people away from their usual spots. They are less visible. The back of the Savoy is now clear. But we found that people are just dispersing into alleys, lanes and tunnels instead. They are afraid of being arrested. Around Waterloo this time we found more people than ever this year." Burke said: "In a couple of weeks' time the RSU will be conducting their own head count and no doubt the figures will be lower than ours - because by that time the winter shelters will have opened and there will be less people out in the open. But these figures will be misleading." Burke pointed out that the Sion Community is the only independent organisation carrying out a twice-yearly count on the capital's streets. He said: "We have been working with the homeless in the UK and Ireland for more than 40 years. We are one of the oldest homeless charities. All our staff are volunteers. We are students, professional people totally independent of the government. We are concerned their initiatives are not working." The Simon Community are gearing up for the winter months now and urgently need cold weather clothing, blankets, sleeping bags and other items at their night shelter at 165 Kings Cross Road, near Kings Cross station. For more information call: 020 7485 6639.

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