Reports in last Monday's London Evening Standard and on the BBC's London evening news bulletin both spoke of the rise in street homelessness. I must say this didn't surprise me in the least, I see it as an inevitable consequence of the government's policies.
Chancellor George Osborne announced his Comprehensive Spending Review in October last year and in April this year local councils set new budgets, all involving cuts. These things always take time for the effects to filter through. As I'm sure we're all aware, people are consistently being put out of work due to the current economic climate. It is often said by those who work in the homelessness "industry" that we are all only two or three pay cheques away from homelessness.
So according to these reports, in just 12 months street homelessness in London has risen by 8%. Now these numbers aren't too dramatic, and in London the figure for 2011 so far stands at 3975. The worrying aspect of this was that 60% of these people were new to the street. This is according to Howard Sinclair who is CEO of Broadway, who are one of the organisations involved in what is esssentially an initiative led by the Mayor of London; No Second Night Out. Boris Johnson announced the scheme to loud fanfare in December 2010 claiming he was aiming to end street homelessness by December 2012.
So, in ten weeks, No Second Night Out has taken 135 people off the streets of London and this undoubtably has to be applauded. What concerns me is the fact that there is a need for such things in the first place. Street homelessness, to me, should be something that shames us a nation. I realise that there are a multitude of reasons as to why such things happen, I also realise that there are people who prefer to be on the streets for their own reasons, reasons I wouldn't pretend to understand. These people are in a minority but they prefer to live at the margins of society.
The people I'm most concerned about are those finding themselves homeless due to the cuts happening in the UK right now. I can only presume that over the coming months these numbers are going to grow. Street homelessness increasing by 8% doesn't sound like much but what are the statistics going to say in six months? Twelve months?
What I found most surprising about the publicity surrounding Boris' No Second Night Out campaign was a woman whose plight was being highlighted. She struck me as delightfully normal. A regular woman, pretty, with a regular job, well turned out, and now I'm going to sound like a bigot, but she really didn't look like the type who'd end up homeless. She lost her job selling for a medical supplies company, couldn't pay her rent and ended up sleeping outside a Sainsburys coffee shop! The woman concerned, Ms Karin Botha, who's 36 said: " It was the most scared I've ever been."
Right now she seems to be the poster girl for the No Second Night Out campaign. Which I think can only be a good thing because so many people think it'll never happen to them. Ms Botha seems a perfect example of how it just might. We are living in difficult times and we are going to be hearing more and more stories of people ending up without a roof over their heads.