Two of South London’s most urban boroughs have hugely cut the number of people sleeping rough on their streets – but the ones further out are struggling to deal with an increasing tide of homelessness.
Southwark and Lambeth both registered falling numbers of street dwellers in the latest survey by Sellhousefast.uk, using Mayor of London statistics on rough sleepers in the capital. But Lewisham suffered a 30 per cent increase and Merton a 10 per cent rise. Southwark cut the problem by 23 per cent, according to the figures, while Lambeth did almost as well, with a 20 per cent fall. The borough received a £1million grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government last October for bringing down the numbers.
The charity St Mungo’s also has an outreach team operating in the borough, which works in partnership with referral line Streetlink and Homeless link. Lambeth was also among just six boroughs which have witnessed a fall in numbers of rough sleepers, with a 20 per cent fall in rough sleepers. Thames Reach charity runs shifts throughout Lambeth, to support rough sleepers and get them in accommodation permanently.
The borough also has a new assessment centre which provides support and ensures no one spends a second night on the streets. But Wandsworth suffered a 36 per cent rise in rough sleepers in the same period. The figures for the whole of the capital also showed: l 8,768 slept rough in 2016-17. l Almost half (47%) of homeless people seeking support had mental health issues.
The number of homeless people on the street has doubled since 2010. The average lifespan of a rough sleeper is a mere 47 – or 34 years less than the general UK average. Housing and homelessness charity Shelter puts the number of homeless people at 250,000, with the majority living in temporary accommodation. However, some sleep rough on the streets; exposing themselves to the elements, even in cold winter months. A spokesman for Lambeth council said: “We recognise we have a significant role in providing housing assistance to residents at risk of becoming homeless or who are already homeless, and providing specialist support to vulnerable residents including people sleeping rough. “We have a Rough Sleeping Strategy and we are committed to ensuring that rough sleeping is kept to a minimum. “Lambeth has maintained its well-resourced rough-sleeping team and rough-sleeping accommodation pathways, which help people off the streets. We provide prevention services and commission an outreach service that supports any person found sleeping rough in Lambeth.” A Wandsworth council spokesman said: “We take our obligations extremely seriously and fund outreach services from Thamesreach street rescue to support and assist those who find themselves living on the streets. “According to these figures we have the second lowest number of rough sleepers in inner London despite being its biggest borough in terms of geographical size and population.” Southwark has this month launched a joint service with housing charity Shelter with its homelessness office in Bournemouth Road. Shelter’s team of expert advisers will work side-by-side with council staff to provide free and independent advice and support to anyone who needs it. They expect to help at least 800 households facing homelessness every year to find and keep a home. The Department for Communities and Local Government had named the borough as one of only three councils in England selected as a “Trailblazer Council” in homelessness prevention. The service will provide advice to people at risk of homelessness as well as those who are already homeless and living in temporary accommodation. It will inform people of their full legal rights, support to find private rented accommodation, and offer to represent people in court eviction hearings. Shelter will offer people support at face-to-face appointments on a weekly basis, scheduled in line with the demand for the service and discussions with the council. Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We are looking at all potential avenues to deal with the continuous pressure on our homelessness service. “We have always believed that prevention is better than cure and we want to put the expertise of Shelter and the council together to drive this vital service forward.” Southwark also fought off stiff competition from more than 30 other entries to be shortlisted for one of three awards, and has won a share of £60,000 to contribute to further homelessness prevention work. The Homelessness Trailblazer Pilot has been shortlisted in the London Homelessness Awards, alongside two other projects: Prisoners Abroad Resettlement Team and Network Homes and New Horizons Day centre Project Vista. The three shortlisted projects will share the £60,000 prize fund (£30,000, £20,000 and £10,000 for first, second and third prize), to be announced in October.