In August 2023 London Councils estimated that one in 50 people in London were homeless. In my evening spent with the outreach team of New Horizon Youth Centre, it was difficult to see how this statistic could be so high when charities like this are conducting such extensive work to tackle the issue. We spent the evening travelling throughout the city to carry out street outreach work and offer rough sleeping support for young homeless people. Throughout the evening I was introduced to a myriad of services offering different branches of homeless support. It seemed that every new street I turned to offered another facility, from The Passage to Charing Cross Soup Kitchen to St Patrick’s Church, many of the buildings in central London that we walk past everyday offer some form of help for the homeless. Yet for every service I was introduced to, I saw an even greater number of people sleeping rough or in search of accommodation.
New Horizon Youth Centre is a London based charity supporting homeless people aged 18 to 24. They offer an array of services including education and training support, physical and mental health services, workshops, and basic necessities like food and clothes. The charity also provides in depth housing advice and assistance as well as street and prison outreach work. Many such charities seem to be a one stop shop for assisting the homeless. However, my interviews with New Horizon outreach workers brought to light many of the challenges facing this ever-persistent crisis.
Outreach worker Jackie revealed that “social housing isn’t even a conversation anymore, those days are long gone”, where not even mental and physical needs are accommodated. New Horizon attracts around 6 to 10 new people every day, and there are only 12 housing appointments for every 50 young people in need of the service. Within the past year, they have seen a sharp increase in the number of people in need of assistance, due in part to an increase in refugees within London. This influx coupled with overcrowding and exceptionally high waiting lists for hostels and other forms of shelter is putting incredible pressure on small charities such as this one.
According to research published by the House of Commons Library from summer 2022, 59% of people in temporary accommodation across England were in London. When accompanying the outreach team, I met young homeless men who had moved from northern towns and cities to London hoping to change their circumstances. It was also reported that the promise of a job in London would see coaches of women arrive at Victoria coach station just to become victims of sexual exploitation ploys, with charities left to intervene in preventing this. London is evidently a hotspot for homelessness, but is the city able to solely rely on the work of small charities to tackle such an extensive and clearly very complex issue?
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has recently started his winter rough sleeping campaign which is essentially a fundraising campaign encouraging Londoners to donate to homelessness charities. This fundraising is hugely beneficial, and I have seen in action just how effective the intervention of a charity like New Horizon can be. Yet it is a small organisation and the problems it seeks to solve are quite the opposite. So, what of government intervention?
The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto of 2019 made a promise “to prevent people from falling into homelessness, along with fully enforcing the Homelessness Reduction Act.” Stating that they would “also end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament.” This is a feat yet to be seen, but what we have seen is cuts to councils. The Institute for Government has said that “all local authorities have had to find ways to do more with less in the face of cuts to their spending power.” The Local Government Association has also addressed that “many councils now face the prospect of having to decide if they need to cut valued services that communities rely on, such as […] preventing homelessness” and that “the Government must address these acute financial challenges.”
With the government seemingly washing its hands of this issue there is more reliance than ever on charities like New Horizon. Yet homelessness is not a quick fix issue. There are complexities and different needs for each case whether that be mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, support for victims of exploitation, or simply housing and employment barriers. This is not forgetting the hidden homelessness that sees people fall through the cracks of these services. These complications along with the sheer magnitude of this crisis, are exposing the issues within the larger structures that have been unable to match the efforts of charities like New Horizon.
Edited by: Saarah Farzeen
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