Correspondence regarding rough sleeping in the City has been an unfortunate constant of my mailbag throughout my time as your local MP. However, there is no denying that over the past few years the issue has grown worse as we see more and more tent encampments spring up in our public spaces.
The Council have been doing a fantastic job helping rough sleepers to get back on their feet, work which my team and I continue to support by making sure all reports of rough sleepers brought to our attention are referred to the appropriate outreach services. Additionally, I never cease to be encouraged by the invaluable efforts of homelessness charities, such as St Mungo’s, who supplement the work of our Council and do extraordinary things for rough sleepers.
Sadly, despite all our efforts the situation shows scant signs of improvement. So, what more can be done?
I recently wrote to the Minister for Homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, raising the issue of rough sleepers coming from abroad, particularly the European Economic Area (EEA), and setting up base here in Westminster. Not only are many of the rough sleeper in Westminster not from the constituency, approximately only 37 per cent are from the UK. Non-British citizens are far trickier to assist away from the streets as they are ineligible for much of the support that could see them turn their lives around. This is why I made the case to the Minister for the Home Office to restore its close working relationship with local authorities that effectively facilitated the return of a significant number of EEA nationals to their home country (where they will have access to all the assistance they require) had they been unable to demonstrate efforts to find work and accommodation.
Furthermore, in my letter to the Minister, I urged her to give greater, more appropriate powers to local authorities to remove tents from public spaces. These tents are often used for drug taking and other illegal activities, making them a threat to both rough sleepers and the wider public. Similar to the issues regarding EEA rough sleepers, tents make it much more difficult for outreach teams to engage with those in need and to provide them with all the support they may require to get their lives back on track.
The Cities of London and Westminster have one of the highest rough sleeping counts in the country. Certainly, I will continue to push for greater local powers to tackle the issue and help those sleeping on the streets. This is why I support the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, a plan to half rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament, and end it all together by 2027.
Bringing down rough sleeping numbers will not be easy, nevertheless, I remain optimistic that headway can be made given the determination I have seen from both the Government and our local councils to make right this terribly sad situation.