A report by a homelessness charity has shown a 43% increase since 2011 in people sleeping rough in London.
Broadway said 5,678 people slept on the streets between March 2011 and April, up from 3,975 the previous year despite Boris Johnson's pre-election pledge to end rough sleeping by the end of 2012. London Assembly member Darren Johnson described the mayor as 'dangerously complacent' in a press release:
“The mayor has failed to defend London against cuts to homelessness services, cuts to housing benefits, and a poorly regulated rental sector. The tragic consequence of these problems during a recession is more people sleeping rough.
“The mayor’s aim of ending rough sleeping is a distant dream if things continue in this direction. When I have raised these concerns in recent months the mayor has been dangerously complacent, unwilling to call for radical changes.”
The ease of which people can find themselves homeless can be scarily mundane — with London's rents becoming more and more unaffordable, it only takes one lost job, one housing benefit cap and no money for a deposit for someone to find themselves without a roof over their head. Analysis of government figures by Homeless Link show an national increase of 44% in people becoming homeless because of an end to their shorthold tenancy. The group also highlight a service that is 'dangerously close to the wire' due to increased demand at the same time as funding is reduced. In April, homelessness charities claimed that Boris Johnson had skimmed £5m of government funding from his budget for support for rough sleepers.
Homeowners are just as much at risk — homelessness charity Shelter recently identified the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham as a repossession hotspot. Government proposals to remove housing benefit for people under 25 could also lead to a new wave of the homeless young.
Let's just take a moment to remind ourselves of what Boris's manifesto said about homelessness:
I have secured investment and launched a range of initiatives to ensure that, by the end of 2012, no one should be living on the street, and no one who arrives on the street should spend a second night sleeping rough. This year I will expand No Second Night Out (NSNO, and establish a second hub which enables outreach to be done indoors rather than on the streets. I will also work to ensure that the new London Health Improvement Board works with health commissioners to improve the outcomes for homeless people.
Is it working? The Broadway report says that of the 3,825 people sleeping rough for the first time in London, 2,696 (70%) spent only one night on the streets before being moved to hostels, residential treatment centres and private rented accommodation under the No Second Night Out campaign. Which is obviously great, but two of those come with inherent problems. Residential treatment centres will only house someone for long enough to resolve their drug or alcohol dependency issues meaning the person could be homeless again at the end of their treatment.
Private rented accommodation is also fraught with difficulties — Crisis highlighted some of the practical problems, for example, a homeless person being housed in an unfurnished flat. Their report also examined fears that landlords would increase the rent or evict them, both very real possibilities and as we mentioned above, often the reason the person is homeless in the first place.
Concerns have also been raised over NSNO's definitions of rough sleeping. The Guardian reported in February that outreach workers refused to assist a homeless man because he was inside a McDonalds restaurant at the time they were alerted to his presence. Elsewhere in London, rough sleepers are not recorded as such because they sleep on night buses.
Broadway chief executive Howard Sinclair said:
"The overall level of need shows how essential it is for us all not only to respond swiftly once people lose their homes, but also to turn our attention to preventing homelessness and family breakdown."
Photo by essexdiver in the Londonist Flickr pool.