With Croydon Council’s ‘campaign’ against street begging in the town centre on-going, EBONY GORDON spoke to Jad Adams, the long-standing chair of the borough’s homelessness charity, Nightwatch
Every night in Queen’s Gardens, a group of trained volunteers assist scores of homeless people. This is the work of Nightwatch, a Croydon charity founded in 1976. For the past 30 years, the number of homeless people Nightwatch has assisted has been on the increase.
Nightwatch works with people through various stages of homelessness, and they assist individuals in their resettlement into the community, providing them with furniture and other essentials for setting up a home.
For Jad Adams, the chair of Nightwatch, many of the problems faced by the people who attend the charity’s soup kitchen – including some “working poor”, some of them unable to afford enough food for their children and themselves through a week – is the lack of available, truly affordable housing.
“I think individuals should be mindful of housing needs, and supportive of policies which increase available housing, even if it is against their personal interests,” Adams said this week.
There has been a doubling of street homelessness in London over the past five years, mostly attributed to the housing crisis. More people need accommodation, but there are not enough homes available. Due to the high demand, house prices have gone up and people who would be buying are left with no alternative but to rent a home. Rents in London, too, have risen to record levels.
For those who are on benefits, or who depend on zero hours contracts and other low incomes, often lose out in this for rented property.
Landlords have the right to end tenancies with no reason and with only two months’ notice. Landlords are ending tenancies and refurbishing their properties, then letting them out again at much-increased rents.
“Those who are disadvantaged, economically, socially or mentally are more vulnerable. We need to make allowances for these individuals all round, that is, new build for sale, build for rent, and bringing currently unused property into the housing market.
“What we need to do is move away from the simple ‘market’ approach of treating housing as a product to sell and looking at social need and the way we can work creatively to satisfy it.”
Although Nightwatch is the longest established homelessness charities in Croydon, Adams says that it was never consulted, never mind invited to participate, in the council’s “campaign” against street begging in the town centre.
He is, though, fully behind another council announcement, made this week, of a £500,000 government grant towards providing 10 one-bedroom flats for rough sleepers, as well as support for their medical needs, including their mental health and any substance misuse.
“This is good news, as one of the main shortfalls in provision for homeless people is the lack of ‘move-on’ accommodation,” Adams said.
“People can be helped to address whatever issues caused their problems, and found a hostel place, but then there is nowhere for them to go. People languish in hostels for years, so this project addresses a genuine need in Croydon.”
Adams is an award-winning TV producer and historian who has written acclaimed biographies of Tony Benn, Emmeline Pankhurst and Gandhi. His television work is noted for its social conscience.
As the chair of Nightwatch since 1992, he sees bringing disused buildings into use for rent, as could be possible under the newly funded council scheme, as one of the range of housing policies which are needed, not just in Croydon, but nationally, towards addressing the crisis of homelessness.
“There needs to be genuine diversity in housing, not an over-balanced government support for new builds for sale,” he said.
“Local authorities should have power to cancel planning permissions if a builder is inactive on a site for a prolonged period of time, just land-banking, hoping to sell-on the site, with planning permission, at a mark-up.
“The government should encourage small landlords, instead of discouraging them with tax disincentives. And it should permit councils to build for rent without encumbering them with right-to-buy obligations.”
But above all, Adams believes that much could be addressed quickly if the notion of “no-fault” evictions of tenants in the private rented sector was removed. “We need a return to rent controls and an end to ‘no fault’ evictions,” he said.
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