According to Jad Adams, the chairman of Croydon Nightwatch, the number of people sleeping rough or “in totally unacceptable conditions” in our borough could be twice as many as suggested by official Government estimates. The reasons for the under-estimate, Adams says, are the “very strict” Government’s rules which exclude many people “who commonsense would tell us are homeless”.
The situation is “the worst I have ever know it”, Adams will report to the charity’s annual meeting which is being staged tonight, at the Friends Meeting House.Croydon Nightwatch provides a wide range of help to the homeless, and the working poor, including it’s nightly soup kitchen at Queen’s Gardens.
The charity, which is run entirely by local volunteers, has been offering this much-needed outreach help for some of the borough’s most vulnerable since 1976.
And their help is needed more now than at any time in the previous 39 years.
“The number of street homeless people we see who are sleeping out or in totally unacceptable conditions is increasing,” Adams writes.
“This is in accordance with government figures which recorded at the end of 2014 that the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London had risen by over one-third in the past year. A report published by the Department for Communities and Local Government found that levels of homelessness in the capital rose by 37 per cent between 2013 and 2014. The rest of the country also saw rises, averaging at 14 per cent.
“The true situation is probably even worse. We contributed to the count in November 2014, for enumerating people sleeping out borough by borough. In Croydon’s return 30 ‘rough sleepers’ were declared. However, the very strict guidelines imposed by the government on enumerators mean many people who commonsense would tell us are homeless are missed out in the count.
“People have to be seen in their sleeping place and even then some are excluded: a person who sleeps in a bus garage would be included, but a person who sleeps on night buses would not. The count in Croydon also excluded 14 people who were in the Croydon Churches Floating Shelter as they are ‘housed’ under the terms of the count, but of course were only sleeping in church halls, the entrance criterion for which was that they should be street homeless. I would estimate there are now some 60 people sleeping rough, the worst I have ever know it.
“The reasons for the increase are London-wide and to some extent national. One important cause is the inflated housing market in London. The high cost of purchasing homes means people who would otherwise have bought on a mortgage now rent, putting pressure on the rented sector which houses those of our clients who obtain permanent accommodation.
“We are also seeing an alarming number of people who have been evicted from private rented accommodation even though they were good tenants and paid the rent. The landlords want the properties to sell on the buoyant market while big profits can be made. The sale of council homes over decades has also reduced the stock of social housing available for rent to people with limited incomes. Nightwatch has been supporting the council in policies which encourage home building with an element of affordable housing.
“The other big problem is the immigration of people to Britain with no means of support. We have been complaining to the authorities since 2006 that small charities like ours set-up to look after homeless people face an unacceptable burden from the ‘free movement’ policy which allows people to enter the country with no realistic prospect of sustainable work or accommodation.
“Over the past couple of years the Police and the Borders Agency have co-ordinated efforts to detain and expel people wanted for crimes committed abroad; and have concentrated on checks for people who are not apparently fulfilling their ‘treaty obligations’ to look for work.
“Part of this process is to help people who do want to work to obtain a National Insurance number so they can pay tax and a bank account so they can get paid a regular salary. We are co-operating with the council on a scheme to help eastern Europeans engage in this way. We also help people looking for work in practical ways such as providing boots and other workwear.
“We see the largest numbers of people on Sundays when we give out food parcels. We work with the Croydon Food Network … to co-ordinate food supplies in the borough with other charities that distribute food. Again, our local experience is able to inform the national picture. The Trussell Trust reports that it distributed a million food parcels in 2014. This national figure excludes the activities of local organisations like ours: we distributed just short of 5,000 parcels.
“We sent our findings as a contribution to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Food Poverty and were invited to the launch of the committee‘s report at a meeting at the House of Commons chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. We were able to demonstrate to the inquiry from our figures that the increase in people using food banks is not a ‘supply-led’ result of more banks being in existence. At Nightwatch we have seen an increase in numbers from before the recession. The number of people we see asking for grocery bags has more than doubled since 2008 though we have been doing the same thing in the same place, the only changed is the economic circumstances of the very poor.”
- Read the Croydon Nightwatch 2015 annual report in full here
- Click here for the Croydon Nightwatch website
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