Housing

A trade union turns its headquarters into an emergency homeless shelter

Unite teams up with St Mungo's to help rough sleepers escape the extreme cold

Unite trade union

Britain’s largest trade union Unite has opened the doors of its central office in Holborn, London to rough sleepers as the UK is gripped by an extreme cold snap.

Unite, which operates across a wide range of sectors, partnered up with St Mungo’s staff who provided support to homeless people in need of shelter.

Camp beds were set up in the union headquarters for rough sleepers to rest for the night.

The trade union said it organised in response to mayor of London Sadiq Khan‘s severe weather emergency provision programme, in which he called for ‘pop up shelters’ while many facilities in the capital struggle to meet demand.

General secretary Len McCluskey said: Unite has been proud to help out during these bitter cold nights, but we are under no illusion that so much more needs to be done to tackle this increasing tide of human misery.

“The UK is the sixth biggest economy on the planet; it ought to be capable of putting a roof over the head of every citizen, but the fact that it does not is the direct consequence of failed Conservative austerity policies. The people have no place to call home, which is a tragic reminder that the government’s continuing cuts are destroying lives.

“I want to thank Unite’s members at St Mungo’s for the incredible work they do to provide help for people in need all the year round, but especially at this time of year, when the weather can be so cruel and unforgiving.

“I also want to thank Sadiq Khan for the work his office does to put roofs over heads and to remind us all that we can’t just walk on by in 2019.”

Unite’s action followed the publication of a government report on homelessness statistics in 2018, which showed an overall slight fall in rough sleeping in England – but continued increases in London, with figures for the capital at a record high.

Of 4,677 rough sleepers counted in England, 1,283 were found in London alone, a 13% increase on the previous year. Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue’s charitable arm The Big Issue Foundation, said of the government figures: “It’s unacceptable that anyone has to sleep on the streets, never mind this volume of people.

“There are no homes for people to go to. There is a poverty crisis placing increasing pressure on the welfare system.

“If we do not legislate on [a preventative] basis and enact it then I fear this crisis will not diminish.”

Unite general secretary McCluskey added that the figures “make very depressing reading” and that the UK Prime Minister Theresa May should acknowledge “the harsh austerity regime” still underway.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “No one should be sleeping rough in this freezing weather, which is why our emergency shelters are open across the capital every night the temperature drops to zero, offering rough sleepers somewhere warm to stay and further support to help them off the streets for good. As the bitter cold continues, it’s great to see Unite using their office space to provide extra shelter for those in need.”

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