Back in 2008, as Boris Johnson was entering the final month of his race to become London mayor, he pledged to end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012. Imagine that – no one sleeping on the streets, in one of the biggest cities in the world. Sounds kind of utopian, doesn’t it? Somehow, however, in between all of the falling over in ponds and zip wire ordeals that have characterised his time in office, his thirst for this quest seems to have deserted him. In fact, the number of people sleeping rough has pretty much doubled since 2008, to the point where 6,437 people did so in London last year.
The Mayor would argue that we’ve simply become more aware of the true extent of London’s homelessness problem. That – thanks, in part, to him – there are now better support workers out there, collecting more accurate data. But the point remains that there are A LOT of people sleeping rough in our capital. And, given further austerity cuts, a clampdown on squatting, soaring rent prices and the despised bedroom tax, you can’t imagine things looking any less dismal when the figures come in for 2013.
Of course, the problem isn’t confined to London. Nationally, 53,540 families are homeless – a five-year high that should make you feel pretty low. New figures show that the number of families shelved away into emergency, council-funded B&B accommodation is the highest it’s been for ten years. And the whole of Manchester and Salford, a place with a homelessness problem so bad that people have been found living in caves, went without a shelter for a while due to funding cuts. (It’s now back, thanks to a large donation.) Nationwide, the picture is one of homelessness shooting up while funding for homeless charities is shot down
Back in London, whenever another depressing round of stats emerges, Boris points to his ;No Second Night Out’ (NSNO) project. His argument is that the number of people who end up spending just one night on the street has increased from 62 percent in 2010 to 75 percent in 2012. This sounds like progress, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
NSNO is the Mayor’s attempt to end rough sleeping in London. The scheme pays for charities to employ foot soldiers, as well as running assessment centres and a hotline for the public to call if they’re worried about someone they see on the streets. However, NSNO only offers to help rough sleepers the first time outreach workers meet them. If NSNO workers already know you to be homeless – if they know you’ve been sleeping rough for a couple of nights or, say, three years – they won’t help you again.
The Pilion Trust do run their own projects through funding that doesn’t come from the Mayor’s office. However, like many other anti-homelessness organisations in London, it’s tough for them to resist adopting NSNO policies when tens of millions of taxpayer pounds are being poured into the scheme.
Essentially, that lack of funding shuts down the alternatives, leaving NSNO as rough sleepers’ only chance of getting a bed for the night. If you’ve been homeless for a while, this isn’t going to be an option for you.
“It seems like every year there are more homeless people and fewer resources. And fewer resources for people who fall through the cracks. If you screw up, it’s, ‘Sod ya,’ you know?”