Coffee House

Boris Johnson has gone out on a limb for rough sleepers

7 February 2013

1:36 PM

7 February 2013

1:36 PM

Working in the homelessness sector as I do, my first response to Mary Wakefield’s Spectator article on rough sleeping was inevitably defensive. How dare they? Don’t they know we house and help thousands of people in London each year? Can’t they understand how complex it is and that they way things are presented is not always correct?

But after some time to reflect, I came to see that, yes, the system in which Broadway Homelessness and Support and I operate, can be imperfect. It is time-consuming, complex and sometimes hard to access. We are better at reaching people who are new to the streets than long-term rough sleepers like the mother and son described in the article (which is sort of logical considering the fact long-term rough sleepers often need so much more support and assistance). Our referral systems to hostels are both thorough and complex, but this is not to say making good assessments is wrong. Everyone needs to ensure those most in need or those who are most vulnerable receive services that cannot stretch to meeting the needs of everyone.

Put simply, we have to ensure people do not ‘queue-jump’ to access resources that are made available on the back of emergency shelter accommodation. It is in some ways inconceivable to think people will sleep rough to access housing, but that is our experience. In parts of the country the response to rough sleeping can be 72 hours or more, especially in some rural areas where there are no emergency response services for homeless people. In London this is not the case and services do exist around the clock: this is something I believe everyone working in the homeless sector can be proud of.


But while I get the drift of the article I do feel it to be unfair. I can be the first to criticise the Greater London Authority and indeed the Government for lack of provision. However, both locally and nationally the resource put into helping people off the streets in the current economic climate has been more than we could have hoped for over the past few years. The GLA and the Mayor of London, in particular, have gone out on a limb for people sleeping rough when they did not have to do so. The Mayor also understands that tackling homelessness is not just about tackling rough sleeping and that we must maintain and enhance those services that prevent people sleeping rough in the first place or help to keep people from returning to the streets.

Unfortunately, he can only delegate authority for this to local authorities while watching for the results. It is safe to assume that while the early strides are positive, he, too, is looking for further improvement in the years to come.

In short, homelessness is a critical issue for London today, and it will become ever more so with each passing month. Rough sleeping is too important an issue – for those people who end up on the streets and for all our general wellbeing – not to get the facts right about individuals, about systems and about the services on offer in the capital. Some of your readers will become homeless in the next 12 months. I hope when they do that they realise people do help and the system, while not perfect, is there to be accessed and is truly working. And, I also hope, that they too can come to us for help.

Howard Sinclair is Chief Executive of homelessness charity Broadway.

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Show comments
  • Framer

    Having some knowledge of alcoholics and mentally ill homeless people, and of wet and dry hostels, I have a modest proposal, that will cut across the bureaucracy and sadly the employment opportunities and self interest of many in the industry:

    Build clutches of (heated) pods with nearby lockers (for sleeping bags etc) in our cities that can be sluiced out as and when required, that don’t need to be booked but could be. Chemical toilets and urine bottles should also be installed.
    The particular group of the violent who are put out of even wet hostels have no future in terms of staying alive without such an innovation.

  • Deputy Dawg

    Howard Sinclair, as a matter of interest, what % of rough sleepers are immigrants? And if there were a large number of smaller, cheaper properties available for housing as a result of requiring recent immigrants to return to their own homelands would this alleviate much of the homelessness in London?

  • telemachus

    This is 2013
    We give millionaires a 5% pay rise and we put our poor to live and die on the streets.
    Ed Balls wants to stimulate the economy by build for growth
    That is build houses
    Care that is all

    • toco10

      Ed Balls and his dysfunctional boss Gordon Brown caused all these problems in the first place so he would be the last person to look to for a solution!

      • telemachus

        On the contrary.
        Gordon and Ed were blown off course by Lehman.
        Having rescued the world banks and engineered a return to growth sadly Osborne then triggered the triple dip recession

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, speaking of by-elections and Gordon Brown, here’s a blast from the “Downfall” past. Interestingly, you could probably delete Brown’s name and insert Cameron’s today and it’d still work:

        • telemachus

          I have to say I would certainly give the Witney teenagers an anti tank gun

    • Mycroft

      Oh yes, it’s magic isn’t it, you spend lots more money and it doesn’t cost you anything because it stimulates the economy. So it;s investment, not public spending. Now where have we heard that before?

      By the way, are you Teelemachus, or one of a number of Telemachi? Because making comments here seems to be a full-time job for you.

      • starfish

        Wasn’t around while the ‘envy of the world’ NHS negligence revelations were being published
        Still, all airbrushed now by the BBC

        • telemachus

          So how does that comment help the street sleepers?
          ‘Cept that it shows the lack of care by the right and gives a clue how to vote in 2015

      • andagain

        It does not cost any money at all to give people planning permission. As it happens, one of the first things the Conservative-led government did was tell the Conservtive councils in southern England that they could now refuse planning permission for hundreds of thousands of new houses in Southern England.

    • Bellevue

      A tax cut is not the same thing as a pay rise. Do you really believe that all our money belongs to the State, and if they take slightly less that is a pay rise???
      You socialists really do not understand economics/

      • huktra

        Let’s give the poor a 5% tax cut and to be fair those who do not pay tax a 5% credit
        You clearly relish widening the social divide

      • telemachus

        I take it you also support a 5% tax cut across the board
        We need that money to invest for growth

        • fantasy_island

          Cobblers, this was introduced 1 month before the election so that people like you could make merry once the inevitable negative effect forced that it be cut.

          It had nothing whatsoever to do with raising revenue to invest.