The recent icy weather brings the problem of rough sleeping into particularly sharp focus. The number of people rough sleeping in the borough has more than doubled over the last six years, to more than 600 in 2016. This is a blog for Marchmont Voice by Councillor Jonathan Simpson, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and the Voluntary Sector, on what the Council is able to do to help rough sleepers and how we can all help.
No-one should be sleeping outside any time of the year, let alone in these freezing temperatures.
This month Camden Council has been providing additional ‘severe weather beds’ for our specialist service the Safer Streets Team (SST) to refer rough sleepers to, providing immediate respite from the cold as well as access to other support services so people don’t return to the street where possible.
The Council’s commitment to supporting people sleeping rough is not just something we do in the winter. Our specialist SST service operates all year round and is made up of highly skilled, tenacious and experienced professionals. We’re committed to funding this service despite the funding pressures this government is putting on local authorities.
Ironically, it’s the same government’s policy of austerity that is causing more people to sleep rough in Camden, across London and nationally. In 2010, we had about 250 people rough sleeping in the borough. Last year, the figure was over 600.
We’ve got to respond to this challenge. In February, the Council’s Cabinet will be scrutinising a proposed new policy that we’re calling ‘Routes off the streets’. The policy is designed to improve access to specialist services for rough sleepers who experience multiple disadvantages, such as supporting women and girls who have experienced violence and LBGT issues. As with any good public service, we need to consider all aspects of the individual’s needs, assessing the issues causing them to sleep rough in the first place.
The new strategy also recognises the need to work together. Ensuring health services, including primary care and treatment for addiction and mental health are available for those who need them. We will work closely with all groups based in the community providing help and assistance to people sleeping rough, sharing expertise and energy so that together we’re able to respond to the challenges of emerging issues such as labour exploitation and human trafficking.
We know that one of the most important things is to try and ensure a consistency of approach across London. This is a city wide, national and international issue and one we can’t solve alone in Camden.
We’re already working with the London Mayor’s No Nights Sleeping Rough Taskforce and local agencies to enhance the support available including the provision of temporary accommodation and assessment space away from the street.
There is also a pressing requirement for all London boroughs to work together and with the Greater London Authority and central government on developing approaches and allocating further funding that can assist rough sleepers as quickly as possible.
We want you to play a part too. We’ve all been in the situation when we’ve come across someone on the streets, but we’re not sure how to respond. ‘Routes off the streets’ will focus on making more residents, visitors and businesses in Camden aware of the services available to rough sleepers and how they can to assist in tackling the problem.
These approaches will help meet our commitment to offer a route off the street for every person who ends up rough sleeping in our borough. I would urge anyone who has concerns about rough sleeping in the borough to contact our Safer Streets hotline at any time on 020 7833 7970 or Freephone 0808 800 0005 and to encourage others to do so.