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Opinion

Sadiq Khan: ‘No-one should be left out in the cold this Christmas’

As Sadiq Khan launches his winter homelessness campaign, the mayor of London says a roof over our heads should be a basic human right.

Since I was elected Mayor of London in 2016, helping people sleeping rough on our city’s streets has been a personal priority. We’ve made it our mission to ensure those without a roof over their heads get the support and services they need.

In my first five years as Mayor, City Hall has helped a record 11,000 rough sleepers get off our streets. In the last year alone, the number of rough sleepers in London has fallen by 37 per cent. Our pioneering ‘In for Good’ principle has meant that, following our intervention, more than 80 per cent of those we’ve supported weren’t seen sleeping rough again.

We’ve also sponsored new, innovative services like our ground-breaking rapid response outreach team and set a new pan-London threshold for emergency accommodation, so it becomes available right across the capital as soon as temperatures fall below freezing. Last weekend saw us open our emergency shelters for the first time this year.

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, London stepped up — with a world-leading response to getting rough sleepers in off the streets and into Covid safe hotels, ensuring that the most vulnerable weren’t left at the mercy of this deadly virus. During the pandemic more than 2,500 rough sleepers were accommodated in City Hall-provided accommodation as part of the Everyone In programme. It was our city’s rapid action, working alongside councils and charities, that pushed central government to act too, and undoubtedly saved lives.

But there’s still much more we need to do, and the pioneering work carried out to tackle homelessness during the height of the pandemic could go to waste if lessons are not learnt, and substantial support for rough sleepers is not forthcoming from the government.

In 21st century Britain, and in a city as prosperous as ours, there’s absolutely no excuse for anyone to be left sleeping on the streets. Yet the reality is as soon as we get one rough sleeper off the streets, they are replaced by someone else. After a decade of austerity, cuts to welfare payments, a hostile immigration system and a longstanding housing crisis, it has become much easier for people to end up on our streets and much harder for rough sleepers to find a way off them. In particular, there’s a huge gap in support for homeless non-UK nationals, which remains a litmus test for the government’s commitment to helping everyone who is currently sleeping rough. If ministers are serious about ending rough sleeping, in addition to proper funding, we need to see policy changes too.

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This year, with the threat of new variants rising and the temperatures falling, we are continuing to take action to ensure Londoners who find themselves sleeping rough are brought indoors, where they can be warm and safe. Today I’m in West London to see a new pan-London youth rough sleeping support service, part funded by Londoners’ donations to my campaign last year, alongside contributions from City Hall and London councils. The service, based out of a former hotel, provides accommodation for young people who are currently or at immediate risk of rough sleeping – offering counselling, employment support, family mediation and activities with their peers. 

Young Londoners at risk of homelessness are supported by some of London’s most exceptional charities – but in the absence of sufficient funding from government, they need all of us to pitch in. So today, I’m also launching a new winter fundraising campaign to raise money for the Albert Kennedy Trust, Centrepoint, DePaul, and New Horizon Youth Centre, so that they can carry on their vital work – giving young people a home – and hope for the future.

Our track-record in London shows what can be achieved to help people off the streets when there’s genuine political will and a determination that, as a city, we’ll never walk by on the other side of the road. My hope now is that the government works with us and does whatever it takes to end rough sleeping in our capital for good. A roof over our heads should be a basic human right – and no-one should be left out in the cold this Christmas.

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