Homeless people set to spend another night bedding down on the streets of Camden have called on authorities for more support after “unprecedented” figures revealed rough sleeping has skyrocketed by 647% in just 12 months.
The number of rough sleepers in Camden jumped from 17 in autumn 2016 to 127 one year later, according to national data released on Thursday by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The local authority now has the third highest number of rough sleepers in England, beaten only by Brighton and Hove (178) and Westminster (217).
Charity workers describe Camden Council as “one of the most progressive local authorities in London” in tackling homelessness, but rough sleepers say they want a “more hands on” approach.
“There’s been a big jump [in rough sleeping] lately, especially in the last year or so,” 32-year-old Paul, who became homeless last year after breaking up with his partner, told HuffPost UK.
“Once you find yourself on the street, it’s very difficult.”
He continued: “They need to sort out housing. If there’s not enough houses and stuff, then they somehow have to find more space to build more houses.
“They moan about tower blocks and they knock them all down, by how are you going to house people without going up?”
He continued: “They think it causes social deprivation... but what else are you going to do? Leave everyone on the street - and that’s worse.”
Meanwhile 45-year-old Lee, who became homeless six years ago after losing his job, said authorities must look for short-term solutions to get people off the streets.
“There’s loads of empty properties round here - surely they can open them up and let some of us homeless sleep in there instead of being out in the wind and the rain and the cold?” he said.
“But they don’t seem to care, they don’t. All they’re worried about is people with money around here.”
Camden Council called the level of rough sleeping in the area “unprecedented”, adding that the number of people sleeping on the streets was “practically none” a decade ago.
“This is an appalling situation made worse by the politics of austerity that have led to cuts in services across the country,” said councillor Nadia Shah.
“Rough sleeping has no place in the 21st century, but numbers continue to rise especially as people arrive in central London. It is harmful to the individuals themselves and has an impact on the lives of our residents and businesses.”
There has been an 18% increase in the number of rough sleepers in the capital since 2016, with the figure rising from 964 to 1,137 in autumn 2017.
Nationally, the number of people sleeping on the streets of England has reached the highest level since current records began, with charity chiefs calling the situation a “scandal” and a “catastrophe”.
Howard Sinclair, chief executive of homelessness charity St Mungo’s said: “Homelessness is not inevitable, it’s about helping people who face housing, health and other complicated problems at the time they need it.”
According to Camden Council, only a small percentage of people sleeping on the borough’s streets have a connection with the area, with 75% being classed as foreign nationals or as having travelled to the borough from other parts of the UK.
“This makes our work to support them and address the negative impacts even more difficult, especially where people do not have recourse to public funds,” the local authority said in a statement.
Meanwhile, it linked other spikes in homeless numbers in the area to the movement of rough sleepers from Romania - many from the Roma community - between London boroughs, adding that there is a trend within this group of “often returning home for significant periods”.
There are 651 bed spaces in Camden hostels, the council added, “most of which are in use each night”.
Shah continued: “We are confronting this issue head on. We continue to invest in specialist outreach services. We are working closely with partners to develop our ‘Routes off The Street’ approach to improve services and continue with our approach of using enforcement options only where services have been refused.”
“Camden cannot do this alone and we now need government to recognise that this is a crisis and increase their support to deal with this nationally important issue.”
The council is now investing in additional teams to focus on rough sleeping ‘hotspot areas’ in the borough, it told HuffPost UK, as well as providing extra bed spaces during the winter.
London charity the Single Homeless Project - a service provider for homeless people in Camden - said that the council was “definitely one of the most progressive local authorities in London”.
“We have worked with the council for a number of years,” said Steve Rylance, a spokesperson for the charity.
“In our experience Camden Council have remained very committed to maintaining services for homeless people and people at risk of homelessness in the face of huge financial pressures in terms of cuts in government funding in recent years.”
He continued: “The rough sleeper count is one night, where people go out and count heads, so it’s very susceptible to fluctuations and factors like the weather and can change from one year to the next. However, 647% is a big leap.”
But Tory councillor Oliver Cooper said that Camden’s problem with rough sleeping was being compounded by the Labour-led council’s “wildly irresponsible decision to blame others instead of solving its own crisis”.
“The numbers of people sleeping rough in neighbouring Conservative-run Westminster and Barnet have fallen since 2016, so blaming national policy is a cheap answer to a serious problem,” he said.
“The emergence of cheap Spice and other synthetic street drugs has pushed a large number of people beyond the help of traditional social services, but it appears that Camden is dealing with it worse than other councils.
“That needs more investment in mental health and addiction treatment services, and much more focus from the police.”