The government have banned rough sleeping in Westminster. The proposed bylaw states that a fine will be incurred by anyone sleeping or depositing bedding in Westminster, a fine which extends to charities supporting homeless people by providing free refreshments, which are seen by the government to ‘encourage’ homelessness.
Sleeping rough is rarely a lifestyle choice. Nationally, 1/6 of hostel beds in emergency housing projects have been cut, forcing more people to sleep on the streets, where they will be at risk, particularly those with health problems and women who are more vulnerable to assault. If the byelaw is adopted, the 100-200 people sleeping on the streets of Westminster each night will have to turn to ever more dangerous areas. Other councils following suit include Chelsea. The cynic in me can’t help wondering if this measure is sweeping our social problems under a neighbouring borough’s rug, in preparation for the Royal Wedding and the Olympics. Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest has already been targeted.
Homelessness Link, Shelter and other charities have highlighted that the government cuts are likely to increase the number of rough sleepers, and make it harder for the public and voluntary services to support them. However, some charities do support the bylaw; Novas Scarman stating that long term holistic intervention is needed to help people to sustain tenancies and re-engage in society. I whole heartedly agree with this statement, but the government is paralysing the public and voluntary sector to provide such intervention with cuts to the NHS, social housing and charities. Changes in criteria for Housing Benefit, disproportionately affecting young people, will render many ineligible for both social housing and public funded housing support to enable them to sustain tenancies.
Voluntary sector housing support is largely funded by the Supporting People’s budget via local authorities, which have just been cut by 20%. This budget was previously ring-fenced by Labour to provide support for those with complex needs such as mental illness, addiction, ex-offenders, refugees and care leavers that need to be addressed to prevent homelessness, in recognition that intervention programmes alleviate further pressure on public services such as the NHS.
In the face of an epidemic threat to social housing, the already overstretched homelessness sector is fast becoming decimated and will become ill-equipped to deal with a rise in demand for services.
Many of the most vulnerable people in society will not be able to march with us on the 26th to demand their rights and representation from a government that does not safeguard their welfare. This must not mean that they are invisible. In Devon women’s refuge projects were cut by 60%, cuts affecting women whose anonymity is essential to their recovery. Local people took to the streets and got this reassessed. We must do the same on the 26th.
Join us on March 26th occupying Trafalgar Square, bring sleeping bags, soup and banners for a mass sleep in at 7pm, Follow on twitter for further actions