Over the last year hundreds of people have died while homeless in the UK. Some died on the streets, some died in hospitals, others in temporary shelters or hostels. Some people were found dead in tents in woodland. At least 449 homeless people, but probably more, lost their lives.
The shocking toll horrified Britain. When we broke the story of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s findings following its year-long study, the outcry was loud and understandable. The premature and preventable death count is a national tragedy. The causes of their deaths range from illness and exposure to prolonged starvation, drug overdoses, violence, murder and suicide, with an average age of just 49 for the men and 53 for the women.
However, it won’t help people right at the sharp end, people who need assistance now. Of course, selling The Big Issue provides a great means to work out of poverty. But sometimes this is not enough. There must be a collective coming together of plans for help and intervention. At The Big Issue we frequently speak for those without a voice. We advocate on their behalf and we take their fight to the corridors of power. As we mark our 27th birthday, that is exactly what we’re doing.
This week we challenge national and metropolitan leaders to clearly set out the measures they are implementing to prevent people dying on the streets this winter.
Lives depend on it.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
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.
That’s why we’re going to continue doing everything within our power to get rough sleepers the support they need. As part of this, we have set up a No Nights Sleeping Rough Taskforce, which is bringing together experts, councils, charities and Londoners to help tackle this issue. One of the taskforce’s early achievements was to secure additional funding from the government for more services.
We’re not only doubling the size of my outreach team who work 24/7 to help rough sleepers, but also making funding available to London’s winter night shelters, which is ensuring more beds are available throughout the winter months. We’ve also launched a new ‘Pop-Up’ Hub, which is working with local services and charities to provide a rapid route away from the streets in areas of high need – which is already having real results. You can read more about what we’ve done and ways you can get involved by visiting london.gov.uk/help-rough-sleepers.
Success like this shows that, together, it is possible to make a difference. I want to thank the dedicated Londoners working and volunteering in our services for rough sleepers across the capital – and to pay tribute to those organisations and charities – including of course The Big Issue – with a proud track record of helping rough sleepers off the streets of the capital.
But at City Hall, we’re under no illusions – we know that rough sleeping will take time to solve. It’s an extremely complex problem that will require proper action from the national government too. That’s why we will continue to put pressure on the Prime Minister to provide investment in new housing and public services, with an honest commitment to tackling the root causes of homelessness.
Those who are forced to sleep on our streets deserve better. So we’ll keep doing all we can, and putting pressure on the government to go further and faster to ensure no one needs to spend a night sleeping on the streets of our great city.
James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Communities
The Big Issue has worked tirelessly for 27 years to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on the streets, especially during the winter months. And it’s more than just putting a roof over their heads – but about making sure they get access to the specialist support they need to turn their lives around and get back on their feet.
That’s why this summer, I set out a wide-ranging plan to end rough sleeping by 2027 – backed by £100m – to help those on the streets get swift, targeted help. This money will be overseen by local experts to make sure funding is spent quickly and the most vulnerable receive immediate support.
And our Private Rented Sector Access Fund, announced this month, will give extra cash to councils to help the homeless move into secure homes by providing funds for deposits of the first few months’ rent.
By working together with local government, agencies and charities across the country, we can really make a difference in getting people off the street, address their complex needs and help them find a place to call home.
The Big Issue is a multi award-winning magazine, edited by the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME) current Editor of the Year.
Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales
As First Minister I have taken a close personal interest in how, as a country, we can do more to tackle homelessness, and youth homelessness in particular. Our pledge to end youth homelessness over the next decade is something I’m fiercely proud of. And – like our innovative homelessness legislation – it is something that marks us out as a nation. If we want to be seen as a nation that cares, is fair to all, and wants to give everyone an opportunity then we must prioritise the most vulnerable people in our society.
Rough sleeping is the most desperate point of homelessness, and as we approach the winter, our thoughts will turn to those who are sleeping on our streets. Councils do have severe weather plans in place and we are working with our partners in the sector to ensure that rough sleepers are safe.
Tragically there have been incidents where people have died while rough sleeping and this is something none of us should accept. And so we have committed to spending tens of millions extra on important homelessness projects, better joint working and better research into the causes of homelessness. We need to make these tragedies a thing of the past. To do that, we must learn from our imperfect present. So, for example, whenever we become aware of a death we work with councils to get a full understanding of the individual’s background. Each tragic case will have a very particular story – and we must honour that story by learning from it. Councils will look at what preventative measures and support could have been put in place in each instance, and consider what changes could have ensured a different outcome.
As part of our longer-term approach, our Housing First programme provides open-ended support to people who have been homeless for a long time or multiple times. This is a form of vital continuing support that focuses on preventing repeat homelessness.
Our commitment to fairness demands that we continue to strive to do better for our most vulnerable people, and we will never step away from that challenge.
Kevin Stewart, Scottish Housing Minister
Sometimes very small amounts of money made the biggest difference to people’s lives – like providing the fees required to enable people to replace lost identification papers so they could access bank accounts and benefit entitlements, or providing train and bus tickets so that people could reach relatives and a safe place to stay. These practical responses demonstrate that, with strong leadership, proactive services and dedicated teams we can help people during an extremely vulnerable point in their lives and end rough sleeping for good.
The Scottish Government is working with third sector and local authority partners to ensure plans are in place across the country to safeguard anyone at risk of rough sleeping in this winter’s cold. Actions will build on approaches delivered during last winter’s extreme weather, following the November 2017 recommendations from an expert group set up by the Scottish Government – the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. These include practical measures such as increasing night shelter and other emergency accommodation and empowering frontline staff with flexible funding and direct access to accommodation to reach out to people at risk and make an immediate difference to their situation.
A key learning point from last winter was to trust in the knowledge and experience of frontline workers themselves. Last year’s flexible funding enabled workers to get people at risk into immediate accommodation and build trust to help with longer-term needs.
Partnerships between services and agencies will be key to the success of this year’s winter actions. A group of operational experts from across Scotland is getting together this week to share learning and best practice to make sure activity is targeted as strategically and effectively as possible.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
We know roughly 500 people habitually sleep rough in Greater Manchester. Last year we went further than the national requirement – we opened “emergency provision” every time it was forecast to drop to freezing or below.
We found that when the Beast from the East long cold spell arrived and people were in accommodation for longer there was a real opportunity to help them access extra support – and this means them being more likely to stay off the streets for good.
It’s this approach we want to amplify this winter. A Bed Every Night is an important first step on the road to helping people get off, and stay off, the streets.
With the support of our 10 councils and the Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network, we remain 100 per cent committed to ending the need for rough sleeping by 2020. And we are now on the verge of a massive step towards achieving it with the launch of A Bed Every Night.
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Over the coming winter, our aim is to provide a place for every person sleeping rough, starting on November 1 and running right through until March 31.
Our latest assessment is that we will have between 250 and 300 places available when A Bed Every Night begins on November 1. Through the rest of that month we will continue to work to increase that number as well as making sure there is a range of accommodation available, including safe women-only provision and places that will look after dogs.
We are also working to make sure that the provision is of the right standard and more than just a bed for the night. Ideally, it will provide a steady base with a hot shower, a hot meal and specialist support to help people begin a journey away from the streets.
A Bed Every Night is not a sticking plaster but the first stage of a new systematic approach to ending homelessness in Greater Manchester and giving people a supported journey away from the streets through our existing homelessness projects: the Social Impact Bond and Housing First.
Whatever our challenges as a country, we are rich enough to put a roof over every head every night of the week. I hope that, in Greater Manchester at least, this will soon become the norm.