Efforts to count rural rough sleepers

A homeless man.
A homeless man.
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A bid to tackle the hidden problem of homelessness in the countryside will see a detailed look at the issue in some of England’s deepest rural communities.

Richmondshire District Council is undertaking an exercise to estimate the number of people sleeping rough across vast swathes of the Yorkshire Dales.

Since autumn 2010, all local authorities - in partnership with other local agencies - have been required to provide an annual figure for the number of people sleeping rough in their area based on a single ‘typical’ night.

While homelessness may be perceived to be an urban problem, it is an issue which is known to affect rural communities too, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that some people with nowhere to go settle on bedding down in a barn or shed for the night as a last resort.

In order to compile a figure which reveals the true extent of the problem in Richmondshire, the authority will gather information from all agencies dealing with rough sleepers - local councillors, police, voluntary sector organisations and the local community - from midnight on Wednesday, November 19.

Elizabeth Pybus, Richmondshire’s housing options manager, said she hoped the public would help with the calculation by reporting incidents of people sleeping rough.

“Rough sleeping includes people who bed down in the open air or in buildings or places not normally designed for living – including car parks, stairwells, barns, and cars.

“The information will give us as accurate a picture as possible of rough sleeping across the country which will allow local authorities and agencies to track progress and commission services in the right places.”

Richmondshire’s findings will be sent to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which will publish an annual ‘rough sleepers’ report based on information from all local authorities.

Councillor John Blackie, the independent leader of Richmondshire District Council, said homelessness in the district tended to involve a specific group.

“The number of people sleeping rough in Richmondshire is fairly minimal but recent changes in benefit payments have seen an increase in the number of male under 35s sleeping rough.

“We have the largest Army garrison in the whole of Europe and quite a few, though not all, of those sleeping rough have left the Army and have come into difficulties.”

He praised Catterick Garrison’s welfare services for how they helped Army leavers re-adjust to life as civilians, including providing accommodation at Beacon, a 31-unit purpose built centre to help single ex-Service personnel at risk of being left homeless, but he said it was a sad fact that some had “fallen through the net”.

To report rough sleepers in Richmondshire, email Elizabeth.pybus@richmondshire.gov.uk