There should be a base for voluntary groups offering meals, showers and clothing for the homeless in Camden, according to a politician investigating rough sleeping.
Councillor Richard Cotton, Camden’s cabinet adviser on rough sleeping, suggested the council could provide a building that voluntary organisations could run and use as a base — if funds allow.
He said it could be similar to the Solidarity Hub in Islington, which is a base for outreach group Streets Kitchen, provided by the council there.
Alternatively, Cotton suggested the council should work with charities to use the Camden Routes Off The Streets Hub in Camden Town.
Camden has the second highest number of rough sleepers in London, partly because it is home to major transport hubs at King’s Cross and Euston.
Cotton made the comments in his report to Camden Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee on 13 February.
The first report of the council’s rough sleeping adviser comes after a homeless women in her 60s, Lidia, also known as Maria, Venegas died on the street in Kentish Town in January.
In 2021/22 the Combined Homeless and Information Network recorded 666 people sleeping rough in Camden, with 1,698 in Westminster, which has the highest number in London. Overall 8,329 people were recorded sleeping rough in London.
The life expectancy for rough sleepers is just 45 for men and 43 for women and half of them have mental health support needs. More than a quarter were in care and 31 percent have alcohol dependency support needs, whilst 34 percent have a support need relating to drug use. Cotton said most of them have also suffered trauma.
Whilst the numbers of rough sleepers had reduced from a peak in 2018 they were “very much higher than at the turn of the century.”
“Rough sleepers are at the sharp end of the worst housing crisis since World War Two,” he said. And they are overwhelmingly from backgrounds affected by poverty.
He said the Everyone In scheme during covid was very successful in Camden, with 107 people housed in a hotel in Hampstead where they were given access to specialist support.
He said the level of government funding during the pandemic “needs to be sustained if we are realistically to succeed in the government’s stated aim of ending rough sleeping for good.”
The council was awarded £6.7m in government funding for a three-year project to 2025 to increase help over winter. It also has a grant to help rough sleepers with drug and alcohol treatment.
Amonst other recommendations in his first year report were looking at ways to address hidden homelessness, such as sofa surfing and cutting bureaucracy so people do not have to go through their stories several times and get help swiftly.
He heard about one person who wanted help tackling their drug addiction but but it took three weeks for a response “by which time the opportunity had been lost.”
Cotton and the cabinet member for safer communities Cllr Pat Callaghan joined Streets Kitchen’s early morning outreach from Camden Town to Tottenham Court Road tube station in October 2022. They met more than 100 people that morning in a two-mile stretch of Camden.
“This made us wonder whether the street counts used by the council underestimate the true scale of the problem because figures provided by the council for that same period show a total of 90 rough sleepers.” He suggested reviewing the way numbers are counted.
He also said there should be more publicity about ways the public can help.
They can contact the dedicated rough sleepers team at Routes Off The Streets by calling the 24 hour freephone number 0808 800 0005, by email at email@example.com or by downloading the Camden StreetSafe app.
Supporting Rough Sleepers in Camden, Report of the Cabinet Adviser on Supporting Rough Sleepers in Camden. Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee, 6.30 pm, Monday, 13 February 2023.