Housing

'I know what it's like to be on the street' Why a London frontline homeless worker is backing our campaign

The welfare group founder who was on the frontline of the pandemic response is backing our Stop Mass Homelessness campaign as he knows only too well the dangers homeless people face.

Stop Mass Homelessness

London Homeless Welfare Street Team has already responded to a crisis during Covid. Now founder Jorawar Singh Rathour is backing The Big Issue's campaign to prevent another crisis. Image: London Homeless Welfare Team

Jorawar Singh Rathour has already stepped up to face a homelessness crisis – now he is preparing to face another.

The 44-year-old launched London Homeless Welfare Team in north London just before the pandemic broke out in 2020. 

Street homelessness was treated as a public health emergency during the pandemic.

But although the government’s Everyone In scheme was successful in providing emergency shelter, it did not entirely live up to the name, with some rough sleepers opting to remain on the street despite the risk of catching the virus, while the Covid disruption pushed other people into difficulties.

Rathour and his team of five leapt into action.

The group worked tirelessly to offer food parcels to people who were starving and helped people on London’s streets to stay safe by distributing Covid survival kits containing NHS advice and hygiene goods to people who remained sleeping rough in London.

The efforts were informed by Rathour’s own experiences of homelessness. He spent 22 weeks on the streets following a divorce and has also battled alcohol addiction. The experience scarred him – he has trained in counselling to help deal with the strain that rough sleeping can put on mental health first-hand.

“I know what it’s like to be out on the street. I know what it’s like to be vulnerable and how scary it is,” Rathour told The Big Issue. “That’s why I’m accredited for counselling for those that have been or are experiencing addiction issues. I’m focusing on the alcohol side of things because this is what happened with me. I was near-death a few times.

“Working in the pandemic is very hectic, extremely hectic. When we started on New Year’s Day it was only supposed to be a one-off thing. But the response and the amount of people that we helped out, it was shocking. Even for someone like me, who has been on the streets themselves. We knew that we needed to continue with this.”

Now Rathour fears that the crisis mode London Homeless Welfare Team have been operating in will continue throughout this winter.

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He has backed The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign as he fears his team of five will be needed to help more people than ever in the winter ahead.

“I wanted to say that we are fully supporting and backing the campaign because of the cuts [to Universal Credit],” added Rathour. “We are extremely worried about the months ahead because this is going hand-in-hand with what we’re having to do now. We’re having to facilitate a lot more food now because a lot more people are coming out on the streets and recently a lot more people got in touch with us for food. We’re talking families with young children.”

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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