Homeless denied shelter by authorities

static.guim.co.ikBy Mei-Ling McNamara

Scores of homeless people will be denied shelter this winter in Lewisham, because the local authority has no facilities for them.

Dozens of rough sleepers in Lewisham are slipping through the council’s net. Much of the burden is falling on charities, who are struggling to meet the demands of people who do not qualify for assistance.

Robert Block, director of the Homelessness charity the 999 Club, said: “The Lewisham housing department sends them to us, and by the time they get here, our place is full. They just burst into tears – clearly the provision doesn’t fit around the profile of need.”

Long waiting periods

The 999 Club is one of only two winter shelters in Lewisham that accepts self-referrals. In recent years there has been a steady decline in council provision for rough sleepers, with homeless units only too glad to refer “non priority” people to charities.

The bureaucracy for those who are not considered a priority is equally challenging. “It can easily take one to two months for someone to find a place to sleep once they start the referral service,” said Block.

Accurate statistics on rough sleepers in the UK are scarce. Latest government figures report that 483 people are sleeping rough, but there are large discrepancies between government numbers and independent surveys.

Lewisham not an isolated case

Junior Housing Minister Iain Wright MP recently announced the No One Left Out scheme, which seeks to eradicate homelessness by 2012 through a £200m funding boost. Although the report boasted a two-thirds reduction in homelessness across Britain, this figure is disputed by homelessness charity The Simon Community.

Lewisham is not the only borough in London suffering from a lack of adequate housing provision. Danny Strickland, Senior Project Manager at the West London Churches shelter said: ‘We are definitely seeing an increase in the amount of people who are coming to the shelter compared to this time last year, but we can only let a very limited amount of people through unfortunately.’

Strickland says every night they have to turn queues of people away. With only 35 beds, and a long waiting list, it seems there are even more people being left out in the cold.

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