ALL but one of the local authorities covered by The Northern Echo saw a decrease in people sleeping rough last year, the latest figures reveal, which are submitted annually by local authorities to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The picture is generally positive across the region, with Darlington, Redcar & Cleveland, Middlesbrough, Durham, Richmond and Hambleton all reporting a decrease.

It important to note that figures, from Autumn 2019, do not represent the total number of people sleeping rough in one year, but rather a ‘typical’ night in October.

Stockton, where there were eight rough sleepers, saw an increase of five people – that's 167 per cent on the year prior.

At its peak, four people slept rough in 2016, which halved the following year but went back up to three in 2018.

Councillor Nigel Cooke, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and housing, called the figures “misleading” due to being an estimate of just one night.

He said: “The figures include a number of people who we successfully helped find accommodation that night.

“We are confident that we have no rough sleepers and fully believe nobody should have to sleep rough, which is why we provide a range of help and support to people who are homeless or are threatened with homelessness.”

Middlesbrough had the highest number of people sleeping rough, at a count of nine. This was an 18 per cent decrease on 2018 and a 55 per cent decrease since 2010.

County Durham, which has been "extremely successful" in various government funding bids and leads a region-wide rough sleeping initiative, saw an 83 per cent decrease – from 12 to two – from the previous year.

Councillor Kevin Shaw, Durham Council’s cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: "While prevention will always be our priority, this money from various government bids is already paying for sites across the North East, which provide up to seven days emergency accommodation, and is also allowing us to set up an agency in County Durham through which we will be letting properties to those with a housing need.”

In Redcar & Cleveland, Darlington, Richmondshire and Hambleton, no one was reported to be sleeping rough. While Redcar & Cleveland and Hambleton maintained this figure from the year prior, Darlington and Richmondshire saw a reduction by three and one, respectively.

Hambleton District Council said while the area has "has fortunately and historically had very low levels of rough sleeping" it works with landlords and "puts all efforts into housing rough sleepers permanently".

This sentiment was echoed by Redcar & Cleveland Councillor Steve Kay, Cabinet Member for health, housing and welfare, who is "pleased" to have no rough sleepers in the area.

He said: "Our housing officers remain far from complacent. Our team is working with colleagues across the region on developing the government-funded Rough Sleeper Initiative which involves cooperative work and information-sharing to support initiatives across the North East to help ensure everyone has somewhere to stay each night.”

In Darlington, the council works closely with the 700 Club and other organisations to tackle homelessness.

Nationally, 4,266 people were sleeping rough on a single night in 2019: a nine per cent decrease on 2018 but 141 per cent increase on 2010. Figures peaked in 2017, when 4,751 people were sleeping rough.

Over three-quarters of English councils have benefited from the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) funding, launched in 2018 in a bid to end rough sleeping.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said, “The rough sleeping count takes place on one night, so it’s only a snapshot and is almost definitely an underestimate. Some people will not be counted because they choose to sleep on buses or out of sight in derelict buildings. Others will be missed because they’ve found a place to sofa-surf for a few nights.

“It’s also important to remember rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg – there are hundreds more homeless people in the North East living precariously in temporary accommodation.

“The Prime Minister rightly wants to end rough sleeping, but unless his government tackles the drought of genuinely affordable homes, homelessness isn’t going anywhere. Serious investment in social housing is the only way to fix this. The upcoming budget is a chance to back social homes and increase housing benefit, so it covers the basic cost of rents.”