Homelessness in Lewisham could be solved

Sights like this could soon be a thing of the past in Lewisham. Pic: Bryan Robb (Flickr)

The possibility of solving the homelessness crisis in Lewisham is coming closer, giving hope to hundreds of those sleeping rough on the borough’s streets.

A Lewisham Council spokesperson has spoken to Eastlondonlines about future plans, tackling the temporary housing crisis and how it will benefit the vulnerable – even through drastic cuts.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that a chronic shortage of affordable housing is forcing councils to spend £2million a day on emergency accommodation for homeless families.

In 2014 and 2015, Lewisham had one of the highest numbers of rough sleepers in South East London and a very high figure in particular of young rough sleepers, aged between 18-24.

Every day, local homeless charity the 999 Club sees around 40 rough sleepers on the streets of Lewisham.

The council is hoping to solve this issue in the borough with initiatives such as the temporary housing scheme PLACE/Ladywell.

A spokesperson for the initiative told Eastlondonlines: “PLACE/Ladywell is part of a much broader approach that the Council is taking to tackle homelessness. This includes buying and converting large properties into hostels, providing finance to Lewisham Homes to enable it to purchase homes on the open market and, of course, building 500 new Council homes ourselves.”

Homelessness is not just a problem for Lewisham.

Megan Toogood, from the 999 Club, told Eastlondonlines: “We can say there has been a London-wide rise in homelessness since last year and we certainly can see that in the day-to-day services we provide, including showers, breakfast, laundry and advice and support services.”

At least 8,000 people sleep on the capital’s streets every year and the use of temporary accommodation has gone up by 44 per cent.

Since 2010 the number of 18-24 year olds sleeping rough in London has doubled and 2015 saw 150,000 young people seeking help nationwide. The Youth Homelessness Data Bank showed that, every year, at least 30,000 young people at risk of homelessness are declined support from their local council.

Last year it was announced that Lewisham Council spends £4 million annually on temporary housing.

Lord Porter, Local Government Association Chairman, said in a statement: “Homelessness is spreading across all areas of the country.

“Funding pressures are combining with a lack of affordable housing and private sector rents rising above household incomes to increase homelessness. It is also leaving many councils struggling to find suitable accommodation for those in need, particularly those who are young, vulnerable or with families.”

He added: ”With councils continuing to face huge financial pressures, it is unsustainable for them to have to spend £2 million a day to house vulnerable people at the sharp end of our housing crisis. Councils would much rather invest this scarce resource in building new affordable homes and preventing homelessness happening in the first place.”

In the Households in Temporary Accommodation (England) briefing paper, Gill Payne, director of policy and external affairs at the National Housing Federation, said: “This shocking rise in the number of families stuck in emergency housing is down to our desperate shortage of affordable homes. It’s completely unacceptable that we have thousands of people living in so-called temporary housing.”

Government data has highlighted a rapid increase in all-age homelessness. Over the past decade, the private rented sector has grown immensely and accounts for 13 per cent of all households in the UK.

The use of hostels as temporary accommodation has been increasing. Although the Labour government focused on reducing the number of homeless households, particularly those with children, who have been placed in B&B – bed and breakfast – accommodation like hostels.

It has been acknowledged in the Households in Temporary Accommodation briefing paper that the use of B&B accommodation is primarily a London problem. It is expensive and inadequate and has unacceptable long-term effects on homeless people.

Robert Rees, who works for the East London based charity End Youth Homelessness, told Eastlondonlines that “many generic hostels are not safe for younger people.”

PLACE/Ladywell is the first ‘pop-up village’ in London, providing affordable temporary and safe housing, which many people are desperately looking for.

The housing scheme has won a number of awards including ‘Best housing initiative’.

Following the award, Damien Egan, Councillor and Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “The project is just one example of our work to revive Lewisham’s radical housing tradition with a council house building programme and the delivery of 2,000 new genuinely affordable homes. Even in these tough times, with the government cutting Lewisham’s funding by 63 per cent, we are still making a big difference to the lives of our residents.”

It’s intended that the building is to remain on the Ladywell site for no longer than five years and will be then deconstructed and moved elsewhere to provide housing for a different area.

Lewisham Council said in a statement: ”Following on from PLACE/Ladywell, we are now looking at how we can use offsite construction as part of our mainstream housing programme, so that we can build more homes more quickly.”

Hopefully PLACE/Ladywell will be the start of many similar projects across South East London to solve the temporary housing crisis and get people off the streets.

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