Government figures claim to show a major decrease in the number of people sleeping rough in Southend, placing it among the ten most improved areas in the country.

The figures, published by the Ministry of Housing, show that on a single night in 2018 just 11 people were found sleeping on the streets – a decrease from 72 the previous year.

The number is based on a count that was done over one night on November 22 and saw volunteers walking the streets looking in areas that rough sleepers are known to stay. Meanwhile, the 2017 figure was based on an estimate.

While the number contributes to the Government's assessment of people sleeping rough across the country, it fails to provide an accurate picture of homelessness because it does not include those stuck in temporary accommodation, including hostels and B&Bs.

Southend’s homeless charity, HARP, said that in 2018 they had in fact supported 1,206 people who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Jackie Bliss, HARP’s chief executive, said: “It’s fantastic to see the number of rough sleepers counted in Southend drop by such a huge degree. It’s important to remember that this is just a snapshot on one given night in November, and the situation changes every day.

“However, we are of course pleased that through strong partnership working and the introduction of innovative new projects funded by central government, we have been able to make a huge difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

"Eleven people is still 11 too many, and although the majority are now on the first step of their journey away from homelessness, lots of hard work still needs to be done to get them ready to move on and live independently in the community, which is the ultimate goal.”

Councillor Tony Cox, cabinet member for adults and housing, said the news was positive but “there is lots more work to be done”.

He said: “We are working tirelessly with partner agencies in the public and charitable sector to deliver support and help to people sleeping rough in our town.

"This work is integral to our recently agreed Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy which looks at all aspects of housing, the ‘Make a Change’ campaign designed to highlight how giving money can enable a life on the streets, and the launch of our community partnership team patrolling the High Street and other key areas, helping those in need access appropriate homelessness services.

“All these initiatives are designed to be long term and sustainable thanks to good partnership working. However, there is always more to do, and we are confident these changes in our approach have had a positive effect and will continue to do so.”

A study published by the homeless charity Shelter revealed in November last year that as many as 480 people were considered homeless in Southend, with 408 living in temporary accomodation.

Nationally 320,000 people were found to be homeless, an issue the charity blamed on a combination unaffordable rents, frozen housing benefits and a severe shortage of social housing.