Let’s find some remedies for growing issue on our streets

CROYDON COMMENTARY: It’s getting cold outside, and it seems likely that there will be more rough sleepers in Croydon this winter than ever before. MICKEY FINN offers some suggestions to improve, perhaps even save, the lives of some homeless people, and improve Croydon at the same time

Rough sleeperIt’s a sad statistic that Croydon is home to hundreds of homeless people, those who, for varying reasons, have found themselves on the streets, hungry and without a place to call home.

According to Croydon Council’s statistics, in the last year for which figures are available, 912 families were declared homeless. The number of people sleeping on the streets in Croydon more than trebled in the last year. That increase is the second greatest in London, more than all boroughs except Lambeth.

At the start of this year, there were also nearly 200 families living in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. A quarter of these had been placed there longer than the legal limit of six weeks.

This is something that bothers me. We are all just a few missed mortgage payments away from packing our things into cardboard boxes and turning to the streets for a place to sleep. It’s a terrifying prospect, but it’s something that some Croydon residents face on a daily, and nightly, basis.

Yet I am always shocked to see the number of empty buildings located in and around the town, former nightclubs and office blocks left abandoned. Meanwhile, especially as the winter weather sets in, there are those on the streets who would do anything for a roof over their heads. It just doesn’t make sense.

Why, in a town as resourceful as ours, can we not solve two problems in one? We don’t want to see homeless people on the street and we don’t want empty buildings blighting the landscape. Surely a solution would be to turn one or two of these buildings into homeless shelters with both long- and short-term accommodation?

The buildings could easily be made habitable. I’m not thinking en-suite showers and luxuriously decorated bedrooms: simple shared bathroom facilities and living quarters made available for both families and single people would suffice.

There’s also the opportunity to use the homeless shelters as places of education, healthcare and employment. After all, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, has said that many homeless are in such a situation due to mental health issues and drug problems. Granted, this is a huge assumption, as many people are homeless through financial issues or family problems, no fault of their own, and it’s sad that one of our local politicians feels this way.

There's plenty of empty properties in the centre of Croydon which could serve as emergency homeless shelters over the winter

There’s plenty of empty properties in the centre of Croydon which could serve as emergency homeless shelters over the winter

There’s more to this idea than just a place to sleep. It would be absurd when transforming these empty buildings to not put a soup kitchen on the ground floor, a place where the homeless and hungry can get a hot meal, engage in conversation and learn more about the facilities the centre provides. After all, how many Croydon residents – not homeless, but still struggling – are using food banks in the midst of a crippling financial crisis?

It’s hard to imagine that the many restaurants, cafes and shops that exist in the town wouldn’t be open to donating food that would otherwise have been thrown away. With these donations and a steady supply of simple yet hearty meals, we could genuinely make a difference to those struggling to put food on the table.

I would also propose speaking with Croydon College and arranging monthly “learning evenings” where the homeless can take classes in English, maths and other fundamental skills that would assist in gaining employment in the future. With this in mind there’s also the opportunity to speak with the local job centre and arrange for careers advisors to visit the centre, meet with individuals and see about helping people back into work.

My final suggestion would be for the centre to be used as a place of rehabilitation. Let’s not kid ourselves, Croydon has its issues with drug addiction. The centre could invite local healthcare workers to come in and begin rehabilitation programmes, another step in helping people back on their feet.

It sounds simple and yes, I’m sure there will be obstacles, money will need to be found, staff will need to be employed, volunteers will need to be recruited. But in the long-term the benefits far outweigh the costs. We need to consider that we will soon be home to Westfield and the many thousands of visitors it will bring. Do we really want Croydon put forward as a place with empty buildings and a homeless problem? Or would we rather have rehabilitated our needy, lowered the percentage of drug use in the town and re-educated those in need of work ready to step into the jobs that Westfield will undoubtedly create?

With such a huge investment on the horizon, it makes sense to lay the groundwork now and stabilise our social situation, one way to do this is by helping those most in need. After all, aren’t we supposed to be living in a “Big Society” by now?

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1 Response to Let’s find some remedies for growing issue on our streets

  1. davidcallam says:

    Mickey Finn (great pseudonym!) is right, but he has an uphill task.

    As Nightwatch, Croydon’s hard-working homeless charity, will tell you: for many years the local authority refused to acknowledge that we had people sleeping on the street in the borough.

    The idea didn’t accord with their aspiration to be London’s third city.

    I was initially surprised to learn that Croydon has the second highest number of rough sleepers in the capital, but maybe I shouldn’t be, given that we are it’s most populous borough.

    So,will Croydon Council offer a homeless charity a short-term lease on Taberner House? Say six months from December 1??

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