As revealed in The Big Issue recently, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is doubling City Hall’s homelessness outreach team and has reached agreements over provision of severe weather shelters with all London boroughs this winter in a bid to help rough sleepers.
Speaking to The Big Issue this week, Khan confirmed that the new pop-up homelessness hub, which spends each month at a different rough sleeping hot spot offering intensive help to access support and accommodation, is to continue throughout the year.
Khan also explained that rough sleepers using emergency weather shelters in London this winter would have a place to stay until a specific, bespoke support plan was in place. However, he conceded that the level of street homelessness would continue to be too high without further Government intervention.
“We will do all that we can in City Hall. What I am not willing to do is give up on this issue,” said Khan. “In the eight years before I became mayor, rough sleeping doubled. But over the last two years, there has been a huge amount of work to address this issue.”
In the first year of my mayoralty, we managed to stop the increase, then in the second year it went down by 8 per cent. We are still not happy with that. We can do better.
With street homelessness finally falling, albeit slowly, in London, Khan acknowledged there is a long way to go.
He is pinning his hopes on increased outreach to ensure experts are in closer contact with rough sleepers, more consistent provision of emergency shelters in bad weather, and the guarantee of a bespoke plan for any rough sleeper using the emergency shelters across London, following a pilot scheme last year.
“We have doubled the size of the outreach team this year,” Khan told The Big Issue. “And we have also made sure the severe weather emergency shelters will be open whenever freezing weather is predicted all across London and we have made sure there is In For Good support in these emergency shelters.
“If you go to these winter shelters and you are a rough sleeper, you have a place until there is a support plan for you. Different people have different needs. So it is really important that each individual has a support plan specific to their needs. The principle is ‘In For Good’. Last year almost 90 per cent of the people we helped went into housing. That is because having a bespoke plan makes it more likely that you will be in permanent housing.”
We have made it even easier for Londoners to donate with the TAP points that are now all across the city
The Big Issue caught up with Khan at City Hall, where he launched the first of 35 new contactless donation points across London. These contactless points, alongside a GoFundMe crowdfunding page, are raising money for the London Homelessness Charities Group in the run-up to Christmas.
The new contactless points, developed by TAP, have already helped raise £12,000 in just 24 hours – through the simple £3 donation – according to TAP. The non-profit developed the funding app using a grant from the Mayor’s Rough Sleeping Innovation Fund by City Hall, set up to create innovative solutions to London’s biggest issues.
Last year, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than £200,000. The hope is that the new technology will make an even bigger difference this year.
“We have made it even easier for Londoners to donate with the TAP points that are now all across the city,” said Khan.
Until the Government steps up and deals with the root causes of homelessness, we are not going to see significant progress
Addressing the bigger picture, Khan was adamant that more homes are being built – despite the head of the Housing Committee at the Greater London Assembly, Sian Berry, saying that the Mayor is letting down Londoners and failing to meet targets.
Khan responded: “Last year we had a record numbers of starts in relation to affordable homes, of more than 12,500. We had a record numbers in terms of homes being built for social rent of more than 2,800. And I have reached a deal with 28 councils to start building 14,000 council homes. That will scratch the surface.
“This year I want to see more progress made. But until the Government steps up and raises their game and deals with the root causes of homelessness, we are not going to see significant progress. That is why I have published a Rough Sleeping Action Plan – we have costed it, we think if the Government was to spend £500m on this, we could end rough sleeping for good.”
Last month, in response to The Big Issue’s request for politicians to outline exactly what they were doing to stop so many people dying while homeless in the UK this winter, Khan wrote:
“The number of people sleeping rough in London is shocking. It is unacceptable that in one of the richest cities in the world anyone has to face a night sleeping rough on our streets. As mayor, I’m determined to tackle this issue head on. We should aim to bring an end to rough sleeping in London for good.
“I’m pleased that City Hall has already made progress over the last two years, with the number of people sleeping rough in London falling last year for the first time in a decade. But we still have a long way to go – rough sleeping is double what it was 10 years ago.”