Nadia Shah: Rough sleeping numbers shows how society has let down the vulnerable

'Everyone in” could have been a silver-lining of the pandemic and a positive legacy from such a difficult time.

Friday, 4th March — By Cllr Nadia Shah


In an opinion article written in response to figures showing an increase in people sleeping on the streets, Camden’s community safety chief Councillor NADIA SHAH provides her thoughts on the challenge ahead

NOBODY should be left with no option but to sleep on the streets and it is unacceptable that this continues to be a reality for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Rough sleeping goes beyond borough and national boundaries and as a major transport hub, Camden has some of the highest numbers of people sleeping rough in the country.

We see new rough sleepers coming onto our streets every day, who we engage with to help rebuild their lives away from the street. Every single rough sleeper has a personal story of how they ended up on the streets – the reality is, in my opinion, these vulnerable people have been let down by society as a whole.

We should not have people sleeping rough and it should not be normalised. The fact that life events have led to individuals living on the streets is that they have been let down by the system, somewhere along the line, where they have fallen through a gap.

I see this every day and I think: “If only that abuse was picked up before and this person was able to escape it with support”;

“If only this person’s drug dependency had the correct intervention at this point”;

“If only this person’s mental health professional had seen this and acted quickly”;

“If only this person had had the correct help after being in the armed forces and housed straight away when everything in their world changed when they returned”;

“If only this person had been hugged and told that everything would be ok and given some hope when they thought everything else was hopeless.”

It seems to stem from hopelessness, mental health and well-being.

In Camden, we are very clear that no one should have to live on our streets and its heartbreaking that this is the reality for many people in Camden. We want to bring an end to rough sleeping, but we cannot do this on our own, and we need far greater support from central government.

The temporary “Everyone in” policy and funding made available during the peak of the pandemic gave us a glimpse of what we can achieve with our partners when we have sufficient support and resources.

I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to end rough sleeping for good.

We moved at speed to protect those who were sleeping rough from the virus, working with our partners to get more than 220 people into emergency accommodation by April 2020 and many more in the months that followed.

“Everyone in” not only saved lives, but also gave new opportunities to change lives.

We brought staff together across services from physical health, mental health, and substance abuse services all in one place, working side-by-side to better meet the needs of those who had been trapped in a cycle of homelessness.

We made significant progress with people who had been entrenched in rough sleeping for many years and who had never previously accepted support from the council.

So much hard work went in to preventing people from returning back to our streets.

More than 200 people moved on from our emergency COVID accommodation into long-term accommodation, where they went on to receive further support to rebuild their lives away from the street.

If the government maintained this level of funding for councils, “Everyone in” could have been a silver-lining of the pandemic and a positive legacy from such a difficult time.

That opportunity could now be missed.

Cllr Nadia Shah is Camden’s cabinet member for safer communities


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