I begin with two assumptions. The first is that we all want our...
Every day when I come to work I see people sleeping in the Underground station and doorways. According to Neil Coyle, a London MP, two homeless people are dying every day on the streets of the capital. The Office of National Statistics report that 726 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2018 and Coyle says that number has increased by 22% this year. In the fifth richest economy in the world, that is an appalling scandal. Why is it happening and how can it be prevented?
Some people become homeless because they are in arrears on their mortgage or rental payments. Sometimes it is because their relationship with a partner has broken down or they were living in tied accommodation and have been compelled to leave it. Many were previously living with family or friends who are no longer willing to accommodate them. Almost by definition, homeless people are amongst the poorest but personal factors such as drug addiction may be a contributory factor. The charity Shelter also blames benefit cuts as a reason why some find themselves living on the streets.
Local Authorities have a legal duty to provide advice to anyone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless within the next 28 days. They then check up on the person’s circumstances to discover whether they have a duty to provide him or her with accommodation. They are obliged to provide accommodation if the person has not intentionally made themselves homeless, has a local connection, is a priority need and is not ineligible for housing because they are subject to immigration control.
People are recognized as having a priority need if they are pregnant, have dependent children or have been made homeless by a fire or a flood. Elderly people and those with a physical disability or a mental illness are also priorities. Persons who are vulnerable because they have been in care, or are fleeing the threat of violence and exploitation also have priority status. Ex-service men and women also belong in this category, as do those who have served a custodial sentence.
The rough sleepers I see in Pimlico probably do not fit into any of these categories. The Greater London Authority reckons there are at least 8,855 of them in the capital this year. A national service, Streetlink, exists to help end rough sleeping by enabling members of the public to connect people sleeping rough with the local services that can support them. Those with substance abuse issues can be referred to St Mungo’s for help. St Mungo’s has been helping rough sleepers off the streets of London since 1969. They operate homeless shelters and hostels for supported and semi-independent living. Thames Reach and Broadway Outreach Teams also provide support to rough sleepers in London.
A press release from the Church of England this week seeks to raise awareness of the risk that homeless people might get trapped in modern forms of slavery. Rt. Revd Alistair Redfern, the former Bishop of Derby, has said, “Time and again in our work around the country we meet volunteers and project leaders who have encountered modern slavery and have either not recognised it, or not known what to do about it. With the rising numbers of homeless people on our streets, it is even more important to recognise the signs.” Those working with homeless people on London’s streets endorse the Bishop’s statement.
Rough sleeping may not have been an issue for Jesus but his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) is an example we can follow. A sandwich or a warm drink on a cold day would be a caring act. So too would a call to Streetlink (0300 500 0914) to tell them about the homeless person to whom you have shown care.