OFFICIAL counts show the number of rough sleepers increased in the last year - but experts say the problem is worse than estimated.

New Government figures claim 88 people slept on Brighton and Hove’s streets in 2019, a 34 per cent increase from the previous year.

Officials counted rough sleepers in the city overnight on November 12.

But Brighton Housing Trust boss Andy Winter said the figure underestimated the scale of the city’s homelessness crisis.

“The 64 from the previous year was never recognised as an accurate figure and the 88 figure is closer to reality,” he said.

“The fact that it has increased is not a surprise.

“We’re not getting to the root cause of the problem until we address the issue of prevention in the provision of additional homes with rents people can afford to pay.

“Until we do these things, we’re only putting a sticking plaster on the problem.”

Mr Winter said the housing crisis is a national problem and called for government action to create affordable homes.

But he said Brighton and Hove City Council was sending out “mixed messages” on rough sleeping in the city.

“The council can take a lot of credit for getting the stats down from an all-time high a few years ago,” he said.

“But it’s giving mixed messages about whether people are able to receive services when they arrive in the city.

“Councillors voted through a homeless bill of rights saying everyone can expect to get accommodation in Brighton.

“It is a complete distraction and an unhelpful document.

“People come here expecting to get accommodation and they don’t get it. This is a political failure and the people suffering are on the streets.

“We should be discouraging people from coming to the city in the first place and redouble our efforts to move people out of the city should they arrive without accommodation and employment.

“They should be supported in this and go somewhere where they can have their needs met.”

Mr Winter also called for the city council, police, and press to crack down on begging.

“While people are receiving substantial sums of money each week to fight an addiction, there is no incentive for people to move off the streets,” he said.

“There needs to be a clearer political message that begging is unacceptable in the city.

“It is as much to do with rough sleeping as it is with alcohol and drug addiction.”

City council housing chief Councillor Gill Williams said she was surprised at Mr Winter’s comments.

She said homelessness was a national scandal and the increase in rough sleepers was expected.

“In the 21st century the human tragedy of street homelessness is shocking and unacceptable,” she said.

“Sadly, this rise in numbers was not unexpected due to the ongoing impact of Universal Credit as well as the damage caused by cuts to support services for mental health and substance misuse.

“We’re also taking action before people end up in dire need to help those at risk of homelessness stay in their homes.”

Meanwhile Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an extra £236 million to be spent on temporary accommodation for rough sleepers.

“It is simply unacceptable that we still have so many people sleeping on the streets,” he said.

“I am absolutely determined to end rough sleeping once and for all.”

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