Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Paul Gadsby, on Lambeth’s new night shelter for rough sleepers and how our Labour council is doing to tackle homelessness on our streets.
A few weeks ago I visited Lambeth’s new night shelter for rough sleepers, a facility that opened its doors as the cold nights began to bite in November of last year. It is another successful example of the vital, but often unseen work being carried out by inspiring individuals every day and night on our streets.
There is a little doubt that the UK is in the grip of a shameful homelessness crisis. Just as Lambeth’s night shelter was opening, Shelter released a new study showing that 320,000 people in the UK are now without a permanent roof over their heads in either in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough. It is an appalling legacy of a decade of Tory austerity, began with the help of the Liberal Democrats, that has seen a cycle of poverty and incompetent housing polices leave many at the mercy of the worst kind of circumstances. As I have seen when I have been out with Lambeth’s rough sleeping team, and spoken to former as well as current rough sleepers, these are people who have horrible stories to tell about events, treatment and in some cases abuse that has driven them onto the streets.
But while this picture is grim, we can’t as a Labour council simply sit back and do nothing, which is why the night shelter is one shining example amongst others of the good work going on to help those in need. The shelter has 15 secure beds in a clean, well run facility, with showers and laundry rooms. It opens overnight, providing a hot meal in the evening and breakfast in the morning. Two members of staff are there permanently to help residents and most importantly, to provide a gateway to a better life. They are able to discuss what services can get to address any issues the residents have, like alcohol or drug dependency, and mental health challenges. I really didn’t appreciate until I stated my current job what tireless, painstaking and patient work this is. A lot of the rough sleepers I meet have been let down, often repeatedly, by society or have conditions that make them suspicious, or unable, to take up help. It is ultimately a process of building trust from nothing, and the staff as well as volunteers I meet do a job which is frankly incredible. And it is a real partnership effort with charities and local business donating additional volunteers and food.
There is a great deal Lambeth is doing beyond this night shelter. Despite Tory cuts which have decimated our council’s budget, we are still spending £4 million a year on rough sleeping services and our vulnerable care pathway. We have a very strong track record of winning funding for new facilities, even though many, like the night shelter, are on a short term basis This is a network of 500 beds and rooms in hostels (like our new hostel at Martha Jones House), supported accommodation and services that look to provide help to support a rough sleeper back into secure independent living. A resident can spend two years being helped on the pathway which highlights how intensive and specialised work this is. Since the night shelter opened, 25 people have successfully moved from it into other forms of permanent accommodation.
We will continue to fight for our most vulnerable residents despite the current government’s indifference: doing nothing for those who find themselves on the streets is not an option.
Cllr Paul Gadsby
Cabinet Member for Housing
If you do see anyone sleeping rough on our streets please do contact Lambeth Safer Streets Team (SST) by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the team on 0207 5010601. Please provide as much information as possible about the rough sleeper and the location of their sleep site. Additionally, members of the public can also contact Street Link. Their website is https://www.streetlink.org.uk/ or you can call them on 0300 500 0914. Lambeth SST will be contacted from there and will attempt to locate the rough sleeper within 48 hours.