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The target year - an end to rough sleeping in 2012

February 10 2012
Ambitious promises in an election year are one thing; following them up is a different problem altogether


This is set to be a landmark year in the UK - and not just because of the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee. It’s also set to be the year in which local and national governments eradicate rough sleeping. “We must aim to get people off the streets and in to work,” said Boris Johnson in the run-up to the 2008 election. “I have committed to ending rough sleeping by 2012.”

The Pavement has been tracking the mayor’s progress since 2008, as well as following what’s been happening at national level in Scotland. Throughout 2012, we’re going to keep an eye on whether any of these big promises have been fulfilled. We’ll be reporting on who’s hitting their targets this year, and who is falling short; but in this year’s first issue of The Pavement, we’re going to start by investigating what promises have been made about homelessness in the UK and what 2012 might bring.

Even back in 2008, it seemed like a tough task. “It’s time for us all to say rough sleeping in 21st century Britain is unacceptable,” said the then Housing Minister, Labour’s Margaret Beckett, announcing her bold plan to end all street homelessness in time for the Olympics. Even then, Beckett’s plans were met with some doubt by people in the sector - especially when not long after the announcement, the government stopped publishing statistics for the total number of rough sleepers. Keeping an impartial eye on what was being done became almost impossible.

Still, the official picture was one of a steady decline in the number of rough sleepers in the capital. Richard Blakeway, the Mayor’s Housing Minister, told The Pavement in February 2010 that the number of “the most entrenched” rough sleepers in London had dropped from 205 to just 67 individuals. “Everything I’m getting back from people working in the boroughs is that we should be able to help the remainder of the 205 into accommodation by this summer,” he told us.

Back then, we were asking whether the plan to stop rough sleeping in London was a cosmetic campaign to get homeless people out of sight before the eyes of the world turned on the city for the Olympics. But soon after, the target moved - to the end of 2012, long after the games will have finished. “The original campaign was to end rough sleeping by the time the Olympics came to Britain, which would have been the summer of 2012,” said a Homeless Link spokesman. “But the Mayor has since committed to this being the end of 2012 instead. This was considered to be more realistic and appropriate.”

With 11 months to go until the revised deadline, what’s the situation? The London government has slightly altered its approach, aiming to focus on its ‘No Second Night Out’ scheme, which aims to make sure people only spend one night on London’s streets. Even so, a total of 2,878 rough sleepers were contacted by outreach services in London between July and September, an increase of 17 per cent from last year, according to figures from the Combined Homeless and Information Network (CHAIN). That doesn’t mean that all of those people are long-term rough sleepers, of course - if anything, it could show how much more energy outreach services are investing in the homeless.

The findings also give some sense of the size of the task facing the government and the complexity of the issues they’re dealing with. Making ambitious promises makes for attention-grabbing headlines in an election year, but following them up is a different problem altogether. Scotland’s target Authorities in England have not been the only ones making pledges on homelessness targets. The Scottish government has not only promised to “end rough sleeping in 2012”, it has made it a legal requirement, with new legislation coming into force this December which will entitle all rough sleepers in Scotland to permanent accommodation. With the deadline fast approaching, councils in Scotland have been warned not to “shirk” their 2012 targets. The Pavement Scotland will monitor the story north of the border throughout the year as well, to see if Scotland’s bold commitments are honoured.