Croydon is now ranked as the worst south west London borough for rough sleepers as London homeless households increase by 92% since 2010, revealed a government report released today.
Averaging 51 long-term rough sleepers on the streets every night, Croydon has a growing problem, which is even worse when ‘occasionally homeless’ Londoners are factored in.
An official government report shows that 3,569 people in England regularly ending up without a roof over their heads, up from 825 on the previous year.
A homelessness charity worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, discussed the government report with South West Londoner.
They said: “The figures for Croydon are so much worse than in the report. It’s such a large area and the count is done on a specific day.
“Most of the people I deal with have been homeless for three years and are hidden from the system.
“If you’re a man – that’s it. You go down to the bottom of the pile.”
The government report is based on two sources, the Greater London Authority CHAIN report which is a comprehensive database, and the Department for Communities and Local Government’s national ‘snapshot’ figures.
The CHAIN figures still place Lambeth as the worst borough in south west London, with 248 new rough sleepers which also include ‘first night only homeless’ which make up 51% of their total.
“Councils in London don’t have the money, staff or housing – everyone agrees it’s morally unacceptable to see people sleeping on the streets.”
Croydon is branding itself as an up-and-coming borough, with new investment and development including a £750million town centre overhaul.
The cost of the project has raised eyebrows, given the many challenges faced by residents and charities within the borough.
The charity worker, who works on frontline support for homeless people, said: “I understand the thought behind the regeneration process. Croydon has to do it to become more of a symbol and improve its reputation.
“The problem is in spending so much on these huge projects leaves no money left for those who are in desperate need.”
When approached by SWL about the reason behind the increase in homelessness in the borough, Croydon Council blamed external factors, not their performance.
“Croydon residents are employed in occupations more vulnerable to economic downturn and reductions in public expenditure,” a spokesperson said.
“The impact of the housing crisis and homelessness has been particularly hard in Croydon, and harder than that felt by other London boroughs.
“Croydon average house prices are more than seven times average earnings.”
The council promised ‘to lobby for a fairer share of resources’ alongside their housing strategies and development plan.
The GLA chain report also showed that the number of people returning to rough sleeping in 2014/15 has risen by 20%, when compared to 2013/14.
Labour councillor and lead speaker on the Wandsworth Housing Committee, Simon Hogg, spoke about London’s homelessness problem in more detail.
He said: “No amount of good intentions can fight against homelessness. It’s all about land value, and people end up being priced out of the boroughs.
“Councils in London don’t have the money, staff or housing.
“Everyone agrees it’s morally unacceptable to see people sleeping on the streets.”
Mr Hogg also explained that so-called affordable housing was often a bad investment for property builders, and councils need to do more in partnership with companies to make it successful.
Homelessness and crisis of ‘affordable’ housing is a cornerstone upon which mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith have based their campaigns.
Labour Mayoral candidate Mr Khan told SWL: “Homelessness is becoming an increasingly visible scar on London’s streets, just as it did under the Tories in the 1980s.
“We have a moral responsibility to tackle rough sleeping and not just turn a blind eye.
“If elected Mayor I will establish a Rough Sleepers Initiative – a new London-wide taskforce with local authorities, experts and charities that will oversee the implementation of the Mayor’s rough sleeping work and funding.
“The Tories should be ashamed that rough sleeping has doubled on their watch – I’ll put it right.”
“Homelessness is becoming an increasingly visible scar on London’s streets, just as it did under the Tories in the 1980s.”
His Conservative counterpart Zac Goldsmith has pledged to allocate homeless people who have fallen through the cracks to local authorities.
He has pledged to set up a project, No First Night Out, a social services-based program centred on preventing vulnerable people ending up on the streets in the first place.
Mr Goldsmith said: “It is not just a case of providing more homes, although that is essential.
“Many homeless people in London have severe mental health or substance abuse problems, and they need to be picked up before they end up on the streets.
“London has prospered in recent years, but it is not acceptable that there are still so many Londoners sleeping rough in the capital.”
He also claimed that four in ten of London’s rough sleepers are known to their local housing departments – but hadn’t been given sufficient priority on housing waiting lists.
Instead of waiting for council’s to be able to afford to build more housing as their budgets are slashed, some charities are taking the initative.
Y:Cube, a housing scheme from YMCA and funded by a variety of charities, offers colourful temporary accommodation in the ‘cubes,’ which can be constructed in five months, to single people leaving homeless hostels.
They are rented out at 65% of the market rate and tenants can stay for up to five years while they look for permanent accommodation.
Simon Tanner from YMCA said: “Family breakdown, economic circumstance and the overall shortage of affordable accommodation all contribute to the 30% increase in rough sleeping.
“It is clear that across London traditional building practices are insufficient to meet the growing demand for affordable housing.
“Y:Cube is a quick, efficient and highly cost effective solution to provide good quality housing for people who need it.”
He said YMCA would be happy to explore how a Y:Cube project might help in Croydon.
The overwhelming consensus among charities and experts seems to be a greater focus is needed on affordable housing and shared ownership housing.
The largest problem seems to be the vast numbers of ‘invisible homeless’ people who are couch surfing, in halfway houses or staying with family.
The number of homeless families living in emergency B&B’s and hostels in London has risen by 16% in a year and 142% in five years.
With the mayoral elections set to bring yet more publicity to the housing and homelessness crisis, whoever is elected must aim to buck the trend.
Thousands of Londoners are in need of support, as at the moment they seem to exist only as statistics.
Picture courtesy of Images_of_Money