Dispute over homeless numbers in Wigan

The homeless rate could be higher than official figures suggest
The homeless rate could be higher than official figures suggest

The true number of rough sleepers on Wigan’s streets is likely to be double those included in council counts, regional bosses have admitted.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has revealed data collected by town halls including Wigan does not include people who are sometimes homeless but also spend some time in temporary accommodation or ‘sofa-surfing’ at friends’ homes.

That means it is likely there are around 60 people who need to be classed as entrenched rough sleepers in the borough.

This is very different to Wigan Council’s official figures which found the borough had 30 people who were homeless in 2017, a slight rise from 28 recorded in 2016.

The new data is based on referrals to a new long-term homeless support scheme in the region.

Independent Together, the company which provides services to care leavers aged 16 to 25, said it was time for an honest assessment of just how big the problem of homelessness is.

However, Wigan Council said it is doing everything it can to support anyone at risk of ending up on the streets, whether they are there all the time or whether their accommodation status fluctuates.

Paul Barlow, Independent Together’s director, said: “There are undoubtedly more rough sleepers on Wigan’s streets than the official figures suggest.

“In the official statistics, someone who has been on the streets for virtually the whole year but finds a bed for one night does not count as a rough sleeper.

“Disguising the figures does not help the problem at root cause. GMCA deserves credit for taking a realistic look at the numbers and acting accordingly.”

Mr Barlow has said the numbers could go even higher due to government delays in restoring housing benefit for people aged 18 to 21 and rising residential rents coupled with high demand creating a perfect storm for people struggling.

However, Wigan Council has pointed to substantial work done in recent months as evidence tackling homelessness is a key priority.

The town hall’s assistant director for homes Vicky Bannister said: “However the number of rough sleepers in Wigan borough is defined, it is important to be able to respond effectively by offering timely and bespoke support.

“Wigan Council invests in a boroughwide homelessness service and in local charities that support a strong multi-agency partnership approach to remove the need for individuals to sleep rough by providing the right support alongside accommodation for individuals to rebuild their lives.

“In addition to robust homelessness prevention work, the recent opening of the accommodation and support hub in Leigh, and further one to follow in Wigan, alongside a local Housing First scheme and range of supported accommodation provision demonstrates the local commitment to supporting individuals by ensuring effective provision is in place to address rough sleeping and homelessness in the borough.”

Charities are urging politicians to look at Finland’s success in nearly ending rough sleeping entirely through a housing-first model which phases out shelters and hostels.