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‘Not a true reflection’: Rough sleeping in Redbridge is more than halved, new official figures show

PUBLISHED: 17:25 30 November 2018 | UPDATED: 00:39 01 December 2018

A man living inside a phonebox near Ilford Lane. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

A man living inside a phonebox near Ilford Lane. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Archant

A charity fears the latest official rough sleeping statistics – showing a dramatic reduction from 65 to 26 people – does not give a true reflection of the crisis in the borough.

A team of volunteers prepared to help count rough sleepers in Ilford. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarA team of volunteers prepared to help count rough sleepers in Ilford. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

A charity fears the latest official rough sleeping statistics – showing a dramatic reduction from 65 to 26 people – does not give a true reflection of the crisis in the borough.

Dedicated volunteers trawled through alleyways and graveyards from midnight until 3am today (Friday, November 30) to take part in an annual count of the borough’s rough sleepers.

They assembled at charity the Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, and split into eight groups to survey known “hotspots” around the town centre, tallying up those they found bedded down and referring them for emergency accomodation.

Last year, official data put the number of rough sleepers in Redbridge at 65.

This year it has dramatically reduced to 26.

“I feel that we’re in danger of feeling we’ve solved the problem when the problem is not solved,” said Sonia Lynch, who manages the Welcome Centre. “I don’t feel it’s a true reflection of the whole of Redbridge.”

“My concern is that they counted just in Ilford town centre and that is only part of the borough.”

Excluded from the official figure are 27 of the centre’s registered rough sleepers who spent the night at the Salvation Army night shelter - which opened on November 12 this year.

The 2010 government definition counts only those found “bedding down”.

“I think the definition is OK,” Sonia added. “But I am disappointed they do not count people who are in a shelter.

“We hope that people move from the shelter into accommodation.”

But added that this will not happen for 22 of the up to 28 people staying at the shelter.

They cannot access state support such as housing benefit due to their immigration status - a situation known as having “no recourse to public funds”.

She hopes that when homeless hostel Project Malachi opens there will be about 20 beds to accommodate them - but that is dependent on funds raised through the Redbridge Together appeal.

“If that doesn’t happen and we have only 10 beds, we know there are going to be at least 15 people that will be back on the streets.

“On a positive note, it was great that so many people came out to volunteer their time,” she added.

A seemingly abandoned tent in an Ilford cemetery. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarA seemingly abandoned tent in an Ilford cemetery. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

“Together with the local authority, there is a lot of goodwill. People want to do something to reduce rough sleeping.”

Council leader Jas Athwal said: “I think one person sleeping rough is one too many so 26 people sleeping rough is a blemish on all our society.”

He added: “We have followed the process set by the government and most of where rough sleepers congegrate is around the town centre.

“We went to great lengths to try and visit each of them.

“Our outreach workers, who visit them on other nights, also fed into the process.”

The graveyard shift

I join a group of six volunteers in trekking through the sprawling cemetery of St Mary the Virgin Church in High Road.

A man tries to sleep on the floor of Ilford police station. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarA man tries to sleep on the floor of Ilford police station. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Amid the sea of grave stones are signs of life.

A tent stuffed with bedding and a nearby office chair. A sofa with a pair of shoes. A large pile of discarded clothing and bags in a corner behind the church. At least four mattresses in varying states of decay.

But, tonight, no rough sleepers are found here.

As the group approaches the cemetery it passes a man by a bus stop walking and talking to himself and gesturing erratically.

“That guy has attended the night shelter in the past,” said Captain John Clifton, of the Salvation Army.

But, not bedded down, he is excluded from the tally.

A few hours later I see him trying to sleep on the ground inside Ilford police station while two Met police try to wake him up and sit him on a bench.

Another group of volunteers come across five people in the areas around Lynton House car park.

Andreus, 50, from Lithuania. Photo: Aaron WalawalkarAndreus, 50, from Lithuania. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Underneath the bridge they meet Andreus, 50, who came to the UK from Kaunas in Lithuania.

He told the Recorder he has been sleeping rough for eight years and worked as a painter and decorator.

Asked why he is on the street, he simply said: “Too much drink.”

Another group of volunteers ventures to Valentines Park – where intelligence suggested there may be tents and in November last year Ryszard Najdek, 59, was found dead in a disused toilet he had converted into a makeshift home.

But, lacking keys, the plan is scuppered.

Any rough sleepers staying there will not be included in the count.

Redbridge Together

Redbridge Together, of which the Recorder is a media partner, aims to raise £500,000 for Project Malachi and The Welcome Centre.

Project Malachi will see the creation of a temporary hostel for rough sleepers and homeless people made from recycled shipping containers in Chadwick Road.

Support workers from charity Ramfel will provide rough sleepers living in the hostel with immigration advice if they need it.

The Welcome Centre, in St Mary’s Road, helps with providing hot meals, showers, clothing and laundry but also advice and support, training and employment and a nurse-led clinic supporting health and mental health.

Businesses can support by donating money, raising funds, displaying Redbridge Together promotional material or offering work placements.

The campaign is an association between Ilford Salvation Army, The Welcome Centre, Ilford BID, the Ilford Recorder and Redbridge Council.

To get involved email aaron.walawalkar@archant.co.uk

Donate £3 by texting LIFE to 70145 or at Crowdfunder.co.uk/RedbridgeTogether

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