Leeds Council deputy leader says rough sleeping stats hide "hidden homeless" problem in the city

A survey counted 33 rough sleepers in Leeds City Centre last November.
A survey counted 33 rough sleepers in Leeds City Centre last November.

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Leeds does not show some of the “hidden homeless” in the city, a meeting has heard.

Leeds City Council’s executive board met today to sign off on its Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy 2018-22.

It follows the Government’s own national Rough Sleeping Strategy, released in August 2018, and outlines themes including minimising rough sleeping, and getting young and vulnerable people the support to make sure they don’t end up on the streets.

But the council’s deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar (Lab) warned that there was a “hidden homeless” in the city who weren’t sleeping rough on the streets.

Coun Coupar (Lab) commented on the number of rough sleepers counted in Leeds City Centre back in November last year.

She said: “In Leeds we have 33, in places like Manchester and Birmingham, they are in the thousands.

“We manage to prevent the majority of cases becoming homeless. I am confident we will beat the government target of reducing rough sleeping and homelessness.

“One rough sleeper is too many in this city.

“However, there is an issue of hidden homeless in the city, who are either living under someone else’s roof or sofa surfing.

“We have 11,000 applications a year for housing in the city. As a Local authority we are doing our utmost to ensure we are building new council housing, and we also have an empty homes programme that we are working extremely hard on.”

The strategy outlines five themes for the city in the next few years: minimising rough sleeping, maximising homeless prevention, the future role of housing-related support, youth homelessness, and a focus on priority groups.

Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Carter welcomed the strategy, adding: “It is a good news story in terms of what the council is trying to do.

“In terms of the help we are trying to give to people who have serious mental health issues has to be welcomed and this has to be the way forward.”

The Government has a target to halve rough sleeping by 2022.

The report adds that, following a count on one night last November, 33 rough sleepers were found in Leeds. The strategy states the council wants no more than 14 rough sleepers by the same time this year, and no more than eight by 2022.

It described these as “extremely demanding targets”, but noted that the Government has pledged £352,000 in 2018/19 for such reductions, with provisionally an extra £385,000 in 2019/20.

There will be a “strong emphasis” on helping people to access mental health and addiction treatment, “the previous absence of which has led to people starting, remaining and returning to sleep rough,” states the report. Fast-tracking people to their own independent tenancies through the Housing First model is also continuing.