I am pretty sure that no-one can provide an answer to the above question, not an exact and accurate one anyway. There are a number of reasons for this, all pretty obvious. The homeless are rarely counted in official statistics, they often avoid engagement with officialdom (very few, for instance, bother to register as voters), and a fair view are invisible as far as the system is concerned.
There are many reasons for homelessness. It is not all about addiction, alcoholism or mental health issues. Some are fleeing abuse, some are just too poor for a proper roof over their head, some lose their homes, divorce is occasionally a cause. I am sure those who understand the issue far better than me can give a far longer list of reasons why people are without a home. It rarely is a deliberate choice.
The homeless are not always visible. Whilst we all see people camped out in shop doorways or in bus shelters and the like, there are those who are homeless and yet have a roof over their heads. Numbered in this latter group are those who sofa-surf and those accommodated in hostels or bed and breakfast establishments. This group are at least warm and dry at night, although likely to be living in overcrowded conditions and without anything resembling permanence. There are also squatters, whose tenure is always vulnerable, especially since the changes in law (which now criminalises those who squat).
I get a sense that homelessness is on the rise. This is not a scientific assessment of the situation but rather a gut feeling based on observation. For years (tempting to say Labour years) the numbers of those living on the street in Southend seemed few in number, and declining; the last few years has seen their numbers appear greater.
If asked to guess an answer to the question about the numbers of homeless I would have ventured “somewhere between fifty and a hundred”. As a proportion of the population of the Borough of Southend-on-Sea this is a very small percentage. This town, in common with many eastern and south-eastern seaside towns is a magnet for the homeless.
I now strongly suspect that my former guesses are way off.
HARP (Homeless Action Resource Project) have some numbers on their website. They assist between 60 and 100 people a day. I am unsure how many of these are unique visits.
The Southend-on-Sea churches organise a winter night shelters program (it starts again this Sunday – 17th November). Last year they helped 155 guests, of which 29 had been helped the previous year.
The only number I have for the hidden homeless is from some research for Crisis and they estimated between 310,000 and 380,000 across the whole country in 2003. I cannot imagine the situation has got any better, and I am unable to extrapolate what this means for my borough.
Homelessness is not a new feature of a country now run by Cameron and Clegg. However, some of their policies are made the situation worse. I am hesitant to put a figure on the numbers of homeless people in Southend, but I am far from reluctant to suggest that the situation is worsening.