In September 2013, I was contacted by a 17-year-old girl. Along with her mum and her four siblings, she had just been evicted from her home in London. Due to the increasing number of people being declared homeless and the demands on housing stock, she and her family were left with no choice but to move in with the father, a father whom the mother had walked out on because he beat her and her young children.
For her own safety, the young 17-year-old refused to move in with her father and instead made her bed on the floor of a friend’s bedroom; in the shop of an auntie; and, tragically, the back of any night buses that she could get on. As a result, she dropped out of college, went cap in hand to friends and extended family members for food parcels and became ill worrying about her mother and younger siblings who had been forced to move back in with an abusive father. After months of hard work and finding several temporary solutions through the charity sector, we found her a place to call her own through the private-rented sector and she has returned to college and is going onto university. This young girl’s story, while tragic, had a happy ending, but only because she reached out and was able to get support navigating the heavily bureaucratic and punitive process. There are thousands of others who aren’t so lucky, recent figures released by Shelter predict that 90,000 children will be homeless at Christmas this year. Many of these will be as a result of the volatile London housing market, where demand outstrips supply.
In February 2009 Boris Johnson pledged to “end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012”, yet in the Mayor’s own Equality Report he acknowledges that his pledge to address homelessness has failed. Research shows that homelessness has increased every year at an alarming rate under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. In 2013/14, 3,473 more people slept rough than in the year before he was elected in 2008.
The fact that Boris commissioned a project aimed at stopping people spending more than one night on the streets shows that he is aware that there is an issue, but the ever-increasing figures show that, once again, his pledge has failed, with the figure growing since the project was first formed in 2008.
A failing Mayoralty is compounded by the Government’s change to welfare reform, which has also led to an increase in rough sleeping and homelessness in London. In particular the increase in private sector rents and reduced Local Housing Allowance entitlement has made it difficult for some renters to meet private sector rents in London. Furthermore, private landlords are even more reluctant to accept those claiming Local Housing Allowance. The Department for Work and Pensions carried out research in June 2012, which showed that one-third of landlords currently letting to Local Housing Allowance claimants have either decided to no longer let to benefit claimants or are seriously considering no longer letting to them because of the reforms. This all leads to an increased demand on the third sector to bridge the gap left by a faltering and significantly-reduced public sector. It’s really sad to see rough sleeping and homelessness charities that have been badly affected by government cuts.
I challenged Boris at Mayor’s Question Time this week about this, asking him why, for instance, TfL have cut all their outreach workers that work with homeless people on night buses and I’m pleased that he has agreed to look into this.
His reply is complacent and disappointing. The young 17-year-old girl who came to me was using TfL buses as a place to sleep at night, and while she now has a place to call home, without wider political will and public funding to address the root causes of homelessness, we are left firefighting against an impossible force.
Christmas is next month and I dread to think about the number of Londoners that will be sleeping rough because they have nowhere to turn. One homeless young person is one too many. 90,000 is a national scandal. The Mayor and his millionaire colleagues who rule Westminster should be ashamed.
 ‘Boris Johnson plans to end rough sleeping in London by 2012’, Local Government Executive, 13 February 2009
 ‘Private landlords turning backs on benefits tenants’, Inside Housing, 15 June 2012