THE BLOG

Selfish Anti-Homeless Spikes Miss the Point: Tackling Rise in Rough Sleeping

10/06/2014 10:24 BST | Updated 09/08/2014 10:59 BST

A June weekend is not a time of year when many people, sadly, consider the plight of the 6,500 people who sleep rough in London. But many were jolted out of their deckchairs by reports of spikes being installed outside of a London building to deter rough sleepers.

The consensus on social media, and indeed among charities such as Centrepoint, which works with homeless young people, is that the spikes represent a brutal response to a very real problem.

Introducing spikes to move rough sleepers along is a selfish response to an issue we should all have a stake in tackling, be it social or economic.

The number of under-25s sleeping rough in London has more than doubled in the past three years (from 342 in 2009/10 to 752 in 20013/14. Older people's homeless figures have risen even more). In the city of the sixth largest economy in the world this is a problem that should simply not be occurring... and it doesn't have to.

Anger has been understandably focussed on 118 Southwark Bridge Road, but that anger now needs to be focussed on finding a cure for what is just one symptom of a broader problem.

No Second Night Out has been operating in London since 2012 and has contributed to moving some people away from rough sleeping and into hostel accommodation. Backed by Boris Johnson - who himself has expressed his opposition to the Southwark spikes on Twitter - the scheme has been successful in its aim to get rough sleepers off the street. However, unless it is matched by services to support individuals in the months and years after this initial intervention, there is a real danger that people will find themselves unable to cope and back sleeping on the streets.

At Centrepoint, we work with local authorities across London and the rest of the country to support young people through a range of services. This means having outreach teams out in communities finding and engaging rough sleepers, it means having mediation workers to facilitate, where possible, a young person's return to the family home and it means providing hostels for 18 to 25 year olds where we can support young people to overcome health problems or to get back into education, training or a job.

However, even if there was enough money to provide all of these services to the 80,000 young people who experience homelessness every year in the UK - be that rough sleeping or sofa surfing - the cost of housing, particularly in London and the south east, remains a major barrier to ending homelessness and rough sleeping.

It is now more than norm than the exception that a young person will spend more than two years living at a Centrepoint service because they cannot find anywhere to move on to. At the same time, apartments at 118 Southwark Bridge Road can sell for upwards of £450,000.

If nothing else, the spikes have been a timely reminder that there is still a long way to go if the country wants to end homelessness and rough sleeping, and that 118 Southwark Bridge Road only represents the tip of the iceberg.

It is vital that the genuine anger felt by thousands of people about this one building is now focussed to end homelessness and rough sleeping for good.