Cllr Paul Gadsby is the Cabinet Member for Housing, and a councillor in Vassall Ward.
Despite lots of warm words and promises, there are few practical actions from the government to show they are truly getting to grips with the homeless crisis facing our country: it remains a sad fact that the number of people sleeping rough is continuing to grow. That is why Lambeth’s consultation on its homeless strategy has come at a critical time, and why I’m keen that as many people as possible give their views on one of the biggest challenges facing our community.
According to estimates from Shelter UK, there are 320,000 people without a permanent roof over their head, either in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough on our streets. This is a crisis that has steadily grown as austerity and the housing crisis has worsened, forcing more people into poverty where keeping pace with mortgage or rent repayments becomes impossible. A new report suggests one in four of those facing homelessness are in work with a wage coming in, but that it isn’t enough to hold onto their home. There is no doubt from every indicator available that losing permanent accommodation has an obvious knock on effect onto people’s health, wellbeing and if there is a child in a home, their future prospect.
Rough sleeping, not surprisingly, worsens all these negative effects even further. It places already vulnerable people in a terrible environment susceptible to exploitation and isolation of the worse kind. When I have been out with Lambeth’s rough sleeping team, some of the many incredible people who work in this area in our borough, I am struck by how inexcusably dreadful it is that in a rich society like ours people are left sleeping in collapsing tents and sodden cardboard boxes. It’s a situation that has to be stopped.
The good news is that as Lambeth’s review of its services shows that there are a lot of precious resources and good partnership work going on across our borough that is protecting many in need. This includes:
- Currently, we spend £4 million on rough sleeping services despite drastic cuts to the council’s budget from the Tory government.
- A rough sleeping team which is out every day and night assisting people on our streets. Every year this incredible team helps hundreds of people off our streets.
- Lambeth has close to 500 beds and rooms for vulnerable people who come off the streets and into our care.
- A range of specialist accommodation and services to help former rough sleeping tackle any mental health issues, drug or alcohol addictions, or other health conditions they may have.
- We have supplemented our services by winning funding for a new hostel in Vauxhall and we are one of only two boroughs to have a specialist night shelter for those in emergency need.
- We work closely with organisations, like the Ace of Clubs, to provide outreach and support to homeless people at foodbanks, and with many other organisations, including Thames Reach, to develop better services for rough sleepers.
- We also spend resources on services to prevent homelessness by providing advice and support to those in financial need: this helps well over 1,000 people every year.
This a strong track record, but it is one that we need to constantly test. And there is, despite some warm words, still no sign the government realises the scale of the problem. A recent announcement of an extra £54 million for rough sleeping services sounds good, and Ill certainly take any new money on offer given the rising levels of need, but spread across more than 200 local authorities it won’t go very far. And the Tories still don’t want to face up to the reasons for this crisis: the housing crisis and austerity that have resulted in a lack of affordable homes either to buy or to rent, as well as an economy that puts too much wealth in the few while many struggle financially.
Given this climate, I am keen to get as many views as possible about our strategy. It includes a list of demands to the government which Lambeth Labour laid out in a letter to ministers last month. Are these the right asks? Have we missed something? If you think we have, then do let us know, and that includes about the overall aims of our policies. We are keen also to look at what measures need to be incorporated into our strategy when it comes to the LGBT+ community which is over represented in the homeless population and can suffer particularly from violence and discrimination on the streets. I am writing to leading LGBT+ organisations to ask them for their views on how we can develop our support services in this area.
This is a challenging and in many ways depressing crisis. A change of government really is needed to address the fault lines that have left so many, so vulnerable. But in the meantime please do have a look at our strategy and let us know how we can get these essential services right.
Cllr Paul Gadsby