Homeless forced to set their own targets for keeping safe

COMMENT: Charities and councils should be better funded and able to better engage with, and protect, rough sleepers

Thursday, 27th January

pics2022jan27 Image 2022-01-27 at 08.13.01 (15)

The organisers of the Autonomous Winter Shelter in Gray’s Inn Road [Guy Smallman/Instagram:@Guy.Smallman]

A GROUP of young homeless people have managed to do what it seems our supposedly progressive society cannot: provide a warm and secure home for more than 25 rough sleepers in Camden, (Eviction threat for squatters who set up their own winter homeless shelter, January 27).

The shelter is providing clothing, bedding and food to large numbers of people in Gray’s Inn Road. It has been deemed “unsafe” and the group of squatters now face eviction.

Freezing on the streets is the only alternative many of the people now face. The shelter was their last resort.

It should not be up to individuals to find a home in an abandoned building. Charities and councils should be better funded and able to better engage with, and protect, rough sleepers.

It is a familiar objection from homeless people in the borough that Camden’s hostels can be worse than life on the street.

They can be scary, brutal places. And they can be dangerous at times, particularly for women or those trying their hardest to get away from the downward spiral of drug or alcohol addiction.

One of the squat’s residents, James, said this week how he had got into physical fights in Camden hostels before being kicked out.

He described the environment as a melting pot of tense and desperate people, while the shelter in King’s Cross has given him the space and freedom to breathe, to make friends and apply for jobs.

Trust between the authorities and rough sleepers has long been eroded. The shelter building was once home to a charity that had faced scrutiny over how it handled information on rough sleepers – and how passing it to the Home Office might lead to deportation cases.

A few months ago there were reports of rough sleepers being hosed down in Euston. Transport for London put up notices forcing them away from Warren Street. The shelter has been a haven in an otherwise hostile borough.

It is a total disgrace that there are thousands of empty rooms in buildings and homes across Camden. There is so much space that could be put to good use, to provide a temporary roof over the head of someone in need.

The government and the council boast of their efforts to build more houses. But the fact that people need to set up squats shows that things are not right.

If we are claiming to be hitting home-building targets and homelessness is still increasing, something is going terribly wrong. There is too much emphasis on attracting investors for homes well out of many families’ price range.

What is really needed is more social housing.

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