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REVEALING THE TRUE EXTENT OF RURAL HOMELESSNESS

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A guide published today challenges traditional methods for estimating...
A guide published today challenges traditional methods for estimating

homelessness and rough sleeping.

Inadequate counting methods have served to underestimate or deny the very existence of homelessness in rural areas and therefore prevented vital resources being allocated to tackle the problem, according to the guide's author.

The guide, produced by Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional

Economic and Social Research in partnership with the Countryside Agency and North

Lincolnshire Council, provides a new cost effective method for more

accurately estimating homelessness and rough sleeping in rural areas. It has

been produced to help local authorities and other agencies develop a greater

understanding of homelessness in their area and to assist with the

development of local homelessness strategies. The guide is designed to be

used by officers, rather than specialist research staff, and to demand

minimal resources.

The method detailed in the guide has been piloted in North Lincolnshire,

with some startling results:

* 91 people were recorded as homeless in October 2001 (the statutory

count in the district for the whole of the fourth quarter in 2001 was 63)

* 21 people were counted as sleeping rough in October 2001 and 53

people reported that they had spent at least one night sleeping rough in the

previous month (official estimates accepted by the government had reported a

zero estimate of rough sleeping in the district)

Evidence collected by using the guide's methods will give local agencies the

necessary ammunition to challenge the neglect of rural homelessness within

regional and national policy statements and directives. According to the

guide's author, David Robinson, this could then ensure that an adequate

share of the resources channelled towards tackling homelessness and rough

sleeping finds its way to rural locations.

He commented:

'This guide recognises that the inadequacies of traditional methods for

estimating homelessness have served to deny the full extent of the problem

in rural locations, resulting in the neglect of homelessness and rough

sleeping in rural areas by national policy-makers and limiting the response

of local service providers.'

'The aim of the guide is to help rural and semi-rural authorities and other

agencies develop a greater understanding of the problem within their area.

This will assist local authorities in meeting their statutory obligation to

develop a local homelessness strategy. It will also force questions to be

asked about the relevance and adequacy of service provision in rural areas,

the availability of temporary and permanent accommodation and the

distribution of regional and national resources for tackling homelessness

and rough sleeping'.

The method detailed in the guide has been tested in North Lincolnshire.

Struck by the contrast that it exposed between actual experience and

official figures, Richard Birchett, assistant director of housing, North

Lincolnshire Council commented:

'North Lincolnshire Council is pleased to have participated in the

development of this accessible and timely guide. The robust investigation

into rural homelessness and the resultant high level and accurate

information provided through the application of the method detailed in the

guide has been crucial in helping us develop our rural and homelessness

strategies. The identification of what was, until now, a hidden problem has

messages for every authority.'

The original research on which the guide is based was initiated by issues

raised by the North Lincolnshire Rural Housing Enabler Project and funded by

the Countryside Agency. Margaret Clarke, a Countryside Agency director,

emphasised the importance of the guide in helping challenge the failure of

service provision to adequately meet the needs of homeless people in rural

areas:

'Homelessness in rural areas has not always had the attention it has

deserved because of the difficulty of identifying and measuring the full

extent of the problem. As a result there has been little provision of

emergency and preventative services, leaving some of the most vulnerable

members of rural communities isolated and suffering hardship. There is now

no reason for this to continue. This step-by-step guide is an excellent

tool for local authorities to ensure that their homelessness reviews and

services meet the needs of those in the countryside lacking somewhere to

live.'

Notes

Copies of the new guide, Estimating Homelessness in Rural Areas: A

Step-by-step Guide and Sourcebook of Information and Ideas, by David

Robinson can be obtained from CRESR, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield

S1 1WB 0114 225 3073. Price£10.

Free copies of the guide have been sent out to directors of housing in all

rural and semi-rural authorities in England.

A separate report, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping in North Lincolnshire' by

David Robinson and Kesia Reeve, presents a detailed review of the various

insights gained into homelessness and rough sleeping in North Lincolnshire

through the application of the method detailed in the guide (available from

CRESR 0114 225 3073 priced£5).

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