Sadiq Khan has become the latest city mayor to pledge serious action to tackle recent rises in rough sleeping.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Khan described rough sleeping as “a scar on our city”.
Khan said: “Rough sleeping is the sharpest end of the housing crisis and it is shameful that in London in recent years the number of people on our streets has been on the rise – doubling between 2010 and 2016.”
Citing recent figures, Khan said that for the first time since 2009, there has not been a significant rise in rough sleeping in London. “I am pleased that our new focus at City Hall over the last year is already showing signs of progress,” he wrote.
“Stemming the rise is one thing, but we still have a very long way to go.”
As we recently reported, rising rents, a housing benefit freeze and shortage of social housing have been causing a perfect storm in the private rented sector, leaving one million households at risk of homelessness. And John Bird recently declared the housing crisis a “state of emergency“.
Khan said that his policy of bringing organisations together through the new ‘No Nights Sleeping Rough’ taskforce would not only secure extra funding to help rough sleepers in London, but had also led to £50million of investment in “accommodation so that people can move from hostels into a place of their own.”
The issue of rough sleepers from Europe was also addressed by Khan. “They are affected by legal restrictions that mean unless they are working, they cannot receive help from Government to cover the cost of a roof over their heads,” he wrote.
“So one of the most difficult issues we are grappling with is how we can help vulnerable people who are EU nationals who end up sleeping rough.
“There are around one million European nationals living in London making a vital and welcome contribution to our city’s economy and culture. But for a very small minority of those coming here from across Europe things do not work out and they end up on the streets.
“The question is: what is the best way we can help?”
We must work with the Home Office, even if we don’t always agree with their approach
Khan hit out at a recent government policy change that means EU nationals sleeping rough may be given notice by the Home Office to leave the country – even if they will have no support network where they are sent.
“I am completely opposed to this change in policy,” he wrote, before praising homelessness charity St Mungo’s Routes Home service, funded by City Hall, which works with vulnerable non-UK nationals sleeping rough.
“We want to make the case to Government for more support for services like this, to make sure that EU national rough sleepers are treated fairly and that those who are vulnerable get the help they need. This means we must work with the Home Office, even if we don’t always agree with their approach.
“That is why I have asked my team at City Hall to put together a clear memorandum of understanding with the Home Office about how we work together – setting clear limits on data sharing, and, crucially, guaranteeing that whenever the Home Office is engaged in finding EU nationals sleeping rough, our support services for vulnerable citizens will be there right alongside them.”
There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
Khan signed off on an optimistic note, saying “Some people say that rough sleeping has always existed and always will, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. That is simply not true.”
Khan follows Manchester mayor Andy Burnham in making an important intervention into tackling homelessness in his city. Not only did Burnham commit to ending street homelessness by 2020 when he became Greater Manchester Mayor, but he also pledged to donate 15 per cent of his salary to his new Homelessness Fund.
Here’s hoping the action planned by Mayors Khan and Burnham will prove decisive in tackling not just street homelessness but the causes of street homelessness in the months and years to come.