Housing

Top 100 Changemakers 2020: Housing and homelessness

Welcome to The Big Issue's Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here's our rundown of the housing heroes giving us hope in 2020

The Outside Project

The Outside Project – a grassroots LGBTQI community organisation – received funding last year from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to establish the UK’s first LGBTQI homeless shelter and community centre in a disused fire station in Islington, North London, housing 10 people. They can get housing and employment support, sexual health care and co-working spaces, and take part in cultural and arts activities on site. The events programme includes recovery groups and support sessions for black members of the community, as well as workshops in everything from screenprinting to taekwondo. Almost a quarter of the nation’s young rough-sleeping population identify as LGBTQI, according to akt (formerly Albert Kennedy Trust) figures.

No Evictions Glasgow

In November, a court ruled that housing provider Serco’s lock-change evictions of asylum seekers whose bids were refused in Glasgow were lawful. This left around 300 people at risk of being evicted without a court order, despite having no right to work nor any entitlement to homeless assistance. But it was after the process was delayed by more than a year thanks to the efforts of the No Evictions campaign, formed by groups including tenants’ union Living Rent and asylum seekers’ organisation the Unity Centre, in channelling the fury of locals at the treatment of their neighbours by a faceless landlord. No Evictions has pushed communities to organise protests and vigils while supporting the refugees and asylum seekers whose homes were at risk. The campaigners aren’t slowing down as concerns grow that Serco could evict 30 people per week this winter – and they have called for mass protest and civil disobedience until these homes are protected.

Museum of Homelessness

Last year the Museum of Homelessness took over from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as custodian of the groundbreaking Dying Homeless Project, which counts the number of homeless deaths on UK streets, in hostels or in temporary accommodation. This pushed the Office for National Statistics to conduct their own official count, acknowledging the deaths of vulnerable homeless people for the first time. In turn this will boost the valuable work already done by the social justice museum – set up and run by people with experience of homelessness – preserving and sharing stories, art and culture. The organisation also provides bursaries, mentoring and training.

 Crystal Palace Community Land Trust

Community spirit is alive and kicking in the South London town of Croydon, where a group of residents are tackling the area’s housing crisis while respecting the environment. The locals – who pooled their skills in architecture, transport and sustainability – are gearing up to build high-quality, low-carbon affordable homes in Upper Norwood after winning a competition run by Croydon Council. Now they say their top priority is meeting the needs of people in temporary accommodation, single parents, families with children, young people and domestic abuse survivors, with a preference for social rent over other models. The group, which runs a weekly food market and community gardens to reduce its carbon footprint, will build a mix of homes spanning London affordable rent, London Living Rent and an equivalent to London Shared Ownership, having spoken to the wider community so that everybody feels involved in the proposed changes to the area.

StreetVet

Brian's dog Misty is checked over by Street Vet volunteer Gabriel.

Inspired by an encounter with a Big Issue vendor and his dog in London, vets Jade Statt and Sam Joseph teamed up in 2016 to get high-quality healthcare to the pets on the capital’s streets. StreetVet has now recruited more than 60 volunteers and ensured that more than 600 street dogs, cats and rabbits are vaccinated, microchipped, prescribed pain relief or protected from infections. We often hear from our vendors that their animal companions can have an overwhelmingly positive impact on rebuilding their lives, but veterinary care can be difficult to access and impossible to afford for people living on the street or with no steady income. The work StreetVet does is key to improving the lives of homeless people and their four-legged friends.

The Magpie Project

A safe place to play, a hot meal, somewhere to relax and make friends – they’re things no parent and child should struggle for, but in London’s Newham (previously on record as having the highest homelessness rate in England) they are. The Magpie Project is trying to plug that gap for mothers and children under five in temporary accommodation in the borough. The charity provides all of this, plus advice on housing, debt, employment and healthcare, and signposting to foodbanks and children’s centres. The Magpie Project started in 2017 as a group of around a dozen people worried about the quality of life for mothers and their children. The organisation targets under-fives in insecure housing in particular because there is little data on them – many of their parents don’t engage with services because they hope their situation will be temporary, or sometimes out of fear and shame.

Jen Roberts, Homeless Worldwide 

Roberts spent 2019 channelling the grief she felt after the death of her brother Darren Ledger and helping homeless people. Two years after the Bournemouth Big Issue seller died, Roberts set up Homeless Worldwide. She also achieved one of her brother’s life goals, recording The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother with Peter Andre, M People’s Heather Small and Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton. The single paved the way for the charity to provide the next stage of Darren’s legacy – a shelter that opened in August, offering 14 people in South Shields a path off the street. Accommodation for another 50 people is on the cards. “I’ve always been an advocate for homeless people, even before my brother became homeless,” Roberts told The Big Issue last year.

Mikhail Riches

Another year, another missed opportunity to build the social homes Britain desperately needs to end the housing crisis. But if there was a glimmer of hope, it came from the unlikely source of the Stirling Prize – the UK’s most prestigious architecture award, organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). For the first time ever, social housing took home the gong. It was architect Mikhail Riches’ £17m council houses built on Goldsmith Street in Norwich that saw off competition from London Bridge railway station among others. The two-storey homes shatter any illusions of what council houses should be. They are built to rigorous Passivhaus standards to tackle fuel poverty and feature plenty of innovations to boost social wellbeing, including axing cars from the street and positioning front doors opposite one another. It’s a testament to what a forward-thinking council and a smart architect can do – and the RIBA judges loved it, calling it “proper social housing” and “a modern masterpiece”. More, please (perhaps to the tune of 155,000 social homes per year).

Sarah Ward

Poole resident Sarah Ward is leading a vigorous campaign against the use of public space protection orders to prosecute rough sleepers. Introduced in Poole town centre in April 2017, the law means people can be fined £100 if caught loitering or “leaving unattended belongings, baggage and bags”. If the fine isn’t paid it can rise to £1,000. Ward, who has faced homelessness and is now a carer, tried to take legal action against the local authority in 2018 to remove the clauses which “seek to punish the most vulnerable” from legislation, but she was denied legal aid. With the help of human rights campaign group Liberty, she crowdfunded nearly £4,000 and was able to bring her case – the first of its kind – against the council. It will be heard by a court later this year, when Ward hopes the result will send a loud message and set a legal precedent for local authorities across the country.

Geoff Horsfield

While punditry, management and pub landlord are more typical second careers for footballers, former Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion striker Geoff Horsfield has set up a foundation in his own name to help homeless people and those suffering from addiction. Besides providing meals to rough sleepers, the charity has been renovating a number of properties and taking in homeless people. The foundation also helps people with applications for benefits, prescriptions, food, clothing and gym equipment. Horsfield, who runs his own building firm, aims to establish a hub on Corporation Street in Birmingham where beds, showers, food and support workers will be available to those in need. The foundation has also been talking to Birmingham City Council in the hope of offering people using the charity’s services training in electrics, plumbing and joinery. Beats fighting for your job after six defeats on the bounce every time, right?

Ross Kemp

Ross Kemp
Ross-Kemp-ITV-hero

Before this year you may not have put Ross Kemp and homelessness together. But perhaps it was a sign of the growing crisis unfolding on our streets every day that Kemp turned his attention to homelessness in 2019 for an ITV documentary. And he didn’t do it by halves – sleeping in a tent on Cardiff’s coldest night in seven years, sleeping in a homeless hostel in the city and sitting on the high street where he was ignored by everybody except a drug dealer. Kemp also highlighted the case of Ebenezer Goode in the constituency of ex-homelessness minister Heather Wheeler, South Derbyshire – a man who should not exist if the government’s official rough sleeping figures are to be believed. Kemp also looked at young carers, knife crime and online gambling addiction in the series in his bid to uncover “the way it is” in the UK. None of these issues will have gone away this year – and the need for high-profile filmmakers such as Kemp to shout about them on prime-time telly will be even more acute.

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