Street Sleepers

A concerned constituent wrote to me in July about a man who had taken to sleeping rough in the Horseferry Road area. Her concern was that, having spoken to the homeless man, he might have slipped though the social services net. As it turned out the man was very well known to local agencies and had proved to be a very difficult person to help to remove from street living.

August always sees the highest levels of rough sleepers in central London. One of the reasons is that the Day Centres close and another is, of course, the warmer weather encouraging visitors to sleep rough.

But this year has seen a reduction in the numbers over August 2001 which had itself shown a marked reduction compared to the same month in 2000.

I suspect that it is fair to say that street sleepers will never be entirely removed from our City (after all there have probably been people living on our streets since Londinium was founded 2000 years ago by the Romans. But in recent years has seen a much more managed approach from Westminster Council, the Metropolitan Police, various homeless charities and other agencies.

One of the successes in this area has been the Salvation Army Soup and Clothing Run co-ordination Project. This was started in July 2000 under the watchful eye of the Government’s Rough Sleepers Unit (RSU) which had been charged with the task of reducing rough sleeping in London by two-thirds by March 2002.

Whether this precise target has been met or not is less important than the fact that there has been real progress in managing what had become a totally anarchic situation. Well meaning individuals spurred on by pressure groups and a somewhat misinformed media took it upon themselves to feed the starving homeless on London’s streets. It had got to such a point that they were tripping over themselves to be first to some rough sleeper in a shop doorway in the Strand.

Thanks to the Salvation Army’s project and the other agencies including the Metropolitan Police there is now a much clearer capability to give appropriate and accessible care to homeless and former homeless people in Westminster.

We may continue to see begging on our streets (though not aggressive ones who can be policed) partly because tourists often prove such willing donors. But many beggars are not necessarily street sleepers and many street sleepers are not criminals or drug addicts. All though are a problem and their presence reduces the quality of life for us all.

Westminster residents can be plagued by drunken groups which suddenly set up street homes and use basements or private gardens as public toilets but a lot of unseen work goes on at night to keep matters under control and I believe Westminster is now better served in the cause of rough sleepers than it has ever been.

It was good to be able to put my constituent’s mind at rest about the rough sleeping man in Horseferry Road but there really is no reason for anyone to be sleeping on the streets in Westminster. The aid is there and we can all be hopeful that such continuous and co-ordinated support will see a further fall in the numbers of rough sleepers this time next year.