At our meeting on the 18th of May, we were joined by Andrea Gilbert of the Labour Homelessness Campaign. The campaign has its origins in 2018 and was formed partly as a reaction to the number of rough sleepers in Westminster, which at that time exceeded the number in the rest of the capital.
Rough sleepers in particular are amongst the most vulnerable of those seeking temporary accommodation. Many risk being moved on and fined 100 pounds under the Ancient Vagrancy Act, which remains in place.
The campaign also deals with squatter’s rights, aims to end homelessness and is lobbying on the Homelessness bill.
One of its activities during the General Election was to ensure that rough sleepers were signed up to vote, and in Wandsworth alone they were able to ensure that around 100 Rough sleepers were added to the electoral register.
The pandemic has exposed the inequality aspects of homelessness and highlighted some of the problems. The Government policy of “Everybody in” has shown it is possible to end rough sleeping if the funding is available.
With over 3,000 people moved into hotels in an effort to reduce the risk and exposure that would have followed if they had they remained on the streets. It also exposed some inconsistencies in terms of the numbers. For example, in Wandsworth there were 25 Registered. Rough sleepers, but in reality the number turned out to be 140. Similar numbers are reported elsewhere in the capital.
One of the activities during the Covid campaign has been to ensure that those rough sleepers are vaccinated as well, as they are a particularly vulnerable group
As funding provided during Covid lockdown is withdrawn, an increase of rough sleepers is already occurring.
In addition, those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) increase the numbers requiring housing, employment and many of these have been relocated into hotels during the pandemic as well.
One of the issues LHC are currently campaigning on is the ability of government to deport rough sleepers from non EU countries, which seems remarkably callous. The campaign are linking with unions such as Unite in order to develop new policies and are currently campaigning to reach the 100,000 signatures required in order to have a parliamentary debate on the deportation procedures.
The policy of moving people out back out of hotels at the end of Covid to see more people return to the streets and the funding that was provided previously has proved to be a sticking plaster. Homelessness is often a result of a multitude of issues such as
- Addiction \ Dependency,
- lack of employment,
- LGB TQ
all leading to potential breakups of existing family relationships and people becoming homeless as a result.
So the links with other issues are important and the outreach teams that deal with these issues need to be multidisciplinary as a result.
The long term solution is building more affordable housing on which a great deal of lobbying has taken place of various parliamentary groups with little or no response. In particular the. Labour Party is undertaking a review of policies at the moment with no known announcements in terms of how it can address these issues due in the near future.
The LHC is campaigning to ensure that these issues are taken seriously as and when the new manifesto is developed ahead of the next election. This policy should include ensuring support for all rough sleepers, including those currently with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).
Homelessness within Havering has doubled over the recent years (according to the Samaritans), while Havering has a homeless strategy, this is seen as something that needs further development.
The policy of building homes has to cut through the NIMBY attitude that is prevalent within the borough, and other parts of London. This is not easy; during the discussions afterwards while all were in favour of more house building, many had been involved at some stage in ensuring that development within an area close to them was rejected.
Houses that are built they need to be fit for purpose and in the right location.
Housing will remain a big issue for the party locally and will be a key component of the next Havering Labour manifesto.
We thank Andrea for an interesting discussion and will no doubt revisit many of the subjects raised again in the run up to the Borough elections.
 a matter discussed when Stephen Timms MP visited last year- see newsletter 43.