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News in Brief 147: Dec 2023 – Jan 2024

February 01 2024

News in Brief by Sophie Dianne


A Stik statue spotted in Shoreditch, London in January. The artist Stik regularly features in the Pavement and has lived experience of homelessness. © the Pavement


Better late than never

Finally, the disgraceful scenes outside University College London Hospital in November, where homeless people had their tents and belongings destroyed by bin lorries, have led to an overdue apology from the Metropolitan Police. The Met issued an apology in January to one man (several had their tents destroyed), Anthony Sinclair, for their actions, which they admit were “unlawful”. Police were at the scene in November issuing dispersal orders and even arresting the man they have now apologised to. Sinclair told the BBC that “the treatment that I and others received at the hands of police officers was inhumane.”


New year, same problems

Homelessness among young people in the UK has seen a sharp rise in the new year, according to a coalition of 120 charities. A story in the Guardian on 13 January revealed a number of charities have been shocked by increased demand for their services. The New Horizon Youth Centre in London reported a record number of people had approached it for help in the first week of the new year, while Akt, the charity for LGBTIQ+ young people experiencing homelessness, says it had more referrals in two weeks than it would usually see in a month. Under the name #PlanForThe136k – referring to the estimated number of young people who experienced homelessness in 2023 – the charities have launched a parliamentary petition in the hopes of getting answers from uncommunicative ministers.


Camden update

Further to the Better late than never story, Camden Council, which commissioned the waste contractors that destroyed the tents, and University College London Hospital (UCLH), who requested the dispersal of the people sleeping rough, were contacted by the BBC following the Metropolitan Police’s apology. Neither made comment before the Pavement went to press. The Met is now discussing compensation with Anthony Sinclair, one of the people whose belongings they destroyed, according to Open Democracy. At the time of the incident, Camden Council promised an “urgent investigation” into the matter. The progress of this investigation is unknown.


Stop the count

In a surprise move, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in January it was considering ending its official count of the deaths of homeless people. Data on homeless deaths would no longer be published under controversial proposals to provide an “improved and more efficient health and social care statistical landscape,” an ONS statement read. Quite how dropping the annual update and simply mixing homeless deaths in with overall mortality rates paints a clearer, “improved” statistical landscape is beyond the Pavement. Responding to the news, Gill Taylor of the Museum of Homelessness’ Dying Homeless Project, warned “everywhere in the public sector, change only comes as a result of an evidence base, and without it we are afraid change won’t happen,” adding the proposal was “callous”.


Vagrancy act news

Research by Generation Rent in December 2023 revealed Black people experiencing homelessness are more likely to be arrested under the archaic Vagrancy Act. Open Democracy reports the group sent Freedom of Information requests to 35 police forces in England and Wales. The responses revealed 8% of people arrested under the Vagrancy Act are Black, which represents double the proportion of Black people in the total population. It is three years since the government promised to repeal the act and then housing secretary Robert Jenrick triumphantly declared it would be “consigned to history”. Fast forward to today and only Jenrick’s forgettable stint as housing secretary has been consigned to history. The Museum of Homelessness told Open Democracy it was “dismayed but not surprised” to see that “racism is baked into how homeless people are treated in the UK.”


Operation failing

The number of veterans experiencing homelessness in England has risen by a staggering 14% in the past year, the Guardian revealed in late December. The government launched a scheme last year to reduce homelessness among veterans, but so far Operation Fortitude has failed to produce results. The scheme was launched with the ambitious pledge to leave no veteran homeless on Christmas. Christmas came and went, with 2,110 households in England with a veteran assessed as homeless in 2022–23. A government spokesperson said: “We are immensely grateful to all our veterans for their service in defence of our nation. This government is committed to ending veteran rough sleeping.”


House closure

The House of St Barnabas, a Soho charity and members’ club, shut down in January citing financial difficulties. Although known better for its fancy members’ club, takings from the club were funnelled to the club’s charitable work, which included hosting an employment academy training more than 300 people with homeless experience. Graduates of the scheme were trained in hospitality skills and many worked at the members’ club on work experience programmes. According to Time Out, the club was founded in 1862 as a charity to help homeless people.


Warning

A report published in January has projected homelessness levels in Scotland to rise by 33% in the next two years. The 2024 Scottish Homelessness Monitor, commissioned by Crisis, made the stark prediction based on current trends, which involve year-on-year increases in most demographics experiencing homelessness. The study found the use of bed and breakfast hotels as temporary accommodation across Scotland grew by 124% in the three years to March 2023, while the number of households experiencing a form of homelessness in the country had increased by 11% between 2020 and 2022. There was a hopeful call to reverse these trends, with the report stating significant change in policy by the Scottish and UK governments could produce a 56% reduction in the worst forms of homelessness by 2026.


Justice demanded

The rumbling Post Office Horizon scandal, doggedly reported on by Private Eye for years before its explosive recent stint in the headlines, has captured the imagination and ire of the public. Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly accused of stealing money because of a failing IT system (Horizon).  The debacle left lives in tatters, with the Mirror reporting on the tragic case of Fiona McGowan, who died in an Edinburgh hostel after being left homeless, without a job and separated from her children because of the scandal. After losing her job, Fiona was ostracised by the local community, her mental health suffered severely, her children were removed from her care by social workers and she ultimately died by a disease of despair: acute alcohol toxicity. Her children are now working together to share their mother’s story and get justice for Fiona.


NIMBY news

A homeless shelter’s proposed extension in Edinburgh faces opposition from neighbours. By mid-January the planning application to extend the Springs Garden accommodation in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh, which would make room for an extra 17 guests, had received 23 objections. A letter, written by concerned locals and delivered to homes in the area, embarrassingly claimed the neighbourhood was “already doing its fair share” to support people experiencing homelessness. It was only November 2023 when councillors in the city unanimously declared a housing emergency. Backing the planning application, Alison Watson, Shelter Scotland’s Director, told Edinburgh Live of the need to do “everything possible to immediately alleviate the suffering of those living at the sharpest end [of the housing crisis]”.


Refugees wronged

In a desperate attempt to clear the UK’s legacy asylum backlog, the government has been granting refugee status to people without ensuring there is suitable accommodation available to them. The inevitable result has been refugees having to sleep rough in freezing conditions. Byline Times ran a report on refugees in Glasgow made victims of the failing system, which sees people lose their accommodation after gaining refugee status to make way for people stranded in the asylum system awaiting leave to remain. Evictions paused over Christmas but started up again in January. “The day I got my status, that is when my problems really started”, Mohamed, a refugee from Syria told Byline Times. “I was so happy when I got it, but now I am out on the streets.”

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