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London fails in target

December 10 2012
© No Second Night Out © No Second Night Out


London mayor’s target to end homelessness by the end of 2012 has failed – but some progress is being made.

It was always an ambitious target, and one that many doubted was ever possible. With the economy in the toilet, it is perhaps even less surprising that it could not be achieved.

The Pavement has followed its progress since 2008, and although at points it looked as though it was within grasping distance, the various initiatives launched could not get to everyone.

According to CHAIN, 5,678 people slept rough at some point in London during 2011/12, an increase of 43 per cent on the previous year’s total of 3,975. But some initiatives, such as No Second Night Out, have seen success, with 60 per cent of people moving “into some form of accommodation”. NSNO director Petra Salva said this showed agencies were heading in the right direction, but argued services must redouble their efforts if they are ever to reach the target. “The number of people living on the street has hugely declined because of efforts of all agencies involved,” she told The Pavement. “Our commitment must not dwindle. If anything I think we need to double our efforts.”

Salva said work must focus “upstream”, preventing people from rough sleeping in the first place. Initiatives like NSNO must also work hard not to “create an incentive for people to come to the street to get a service,” she added. But the real challenge was the “patchy” responses from the multiagency approach across the city.

“A real issue for NSNO is that many agencies do not work to our time-frame and systems that exist take far too long,” she explained. “Challenges exist with speedy and timely access into PRS. It takes time to find housing and to set it up.

“Boroughs need coordinated services, good advice and prevention, local assessment beds etc,” Salva added. “Developing these locally will ensure we are more likely to achieve a higher success rate.”

Of course, NSNO has not been the only initiative aimed at reducing the number of people sleeping rough during the year of the Olympics and Jubilee.

Rough Sleeping 205 (RS205) is one of the London Delivery Board’s longer-term projects to reduce the number of “entrenched” rough sleepers. Set up in 2009, it now encompasses 349 people who are seen as needing particular focus to get off the streets.

Most recent figures from the Mayor’s Office show that the number has been reduced by around three-quarters, with only 78 of the individuals being seen rough sleeping in the last reporting period.

Acknowledging that the target had not been reached, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson’s office said the Mayor was “absolutely committed to ending rough sleeping” and would continue to work on the issue for “as long as it is necessary”.

“There has been considerable success in tackling rough sleeping in London,” the spokesperson added, highlighting the results of NSNO and RS205.

“NSNO will continue its groundbreaking work, complementing the initiatives of boroughs and other agencies who are the primary providers of services to rough sleepers in the capital.”

Outside London, the picture is arguably even worse. While authorities in the capital can claim to have kept a lid on the rise of homelessness, figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government show the number of people classified as “priority homeless” has risen to 50,000 – 25% more than in 2009–10.

This has coincided with cuts to homeless services, meaning that just at the point when people need more help, less is on offer. As reported in last month’s issue, research agency SSentif has highlighted a direct correlation between the two factors – which managing director Judy Aldred described as “shocking”.

With the government announcing more austerity measures as part of the Autumn Statement at the start of this month, it seems that those services still aiming for an end to homelessness any time soon are being unrealistically optimistic.