‘Imagine if it was your child’: Homelessness volunteer speaks out after soaring levels of rough sleepers

A homelessness “crisis” has hit the capital as the number of people sleeping rough reaches a record high, with data showing a South London borough has the third highest rates.

A new report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) shows 4,086 people have been seen sleeping rough in London between July and September this year.

Of those people, 2,086 were sleeping rough for the first time, a 13 per cent increase from the same period last year and a 29 per cent increase from the last data set taken between April and June this year.

The data, which only had figures for 14 individual boroughs with the rest grouped into one category, shows Lambeth has the third highest rate of rough sleepers in London – after Westminster and Camden – with 254 people seen sleeping on the streets in the latest period.

From that figure, 133 people in Lambeth are sleeping rough for the first time. It is a 16 per cent increase of new rough sleepers compared to the same period last year.

In the same period, 91 new rough sleepers were seen in Southwark, making up a total of 151 rough sleepers seen in the borough – a 15 per cent increase in new rough sleepers compared to the same period last year.

Jennie Barhan, 44, who lives off Brockwell Park in Brixton, is a volunteer at the youth homeless charity Depaul UK.

Data shows more than 4,000 people have been seen sleeping rough in London between July and September (Picture: Depaul UK/Timm Cleasby)

Since January she has temporarily hosted about 30 young people between the ages of 16 and 25, who would have otherwise been on the streets.

She said: “I’ve lived in London for 16 years, since I started volunteering I’ve really started to understand why people become homeless.

“Some are refugees, sometimes there’s a family breakdown or a family death and suddenly there is no safety net.

“A lot of these people are on the streets for the first time ever – so many people are in a crisis right now – it just takes a sudden chain of events and no one to help.”

CHAIN’s data shows that more than 66 per cent of people sleeping rough in Lambeth are under the age of 45 and 35 per cent are under the age of 35.

Through the Depaul service, Mrs Barhan offers the spare room in her house to young people for between one and seven nights until the charity finds something more permanent.

She said: “It’s down to imagining yourself or your child or your friend’s child in that position.

Jennie Barhan and her husband Mark Nixon have hosted about 30 young people in their spare room since January, who would have otherwise been sleeping rough (Picture: Jennie Barhan)

“I did some stupid things in my 20s but I could move back home – if I broke up with a boyfriend or fell out with someone I could go home. 

“If you lose those options you’re on the streets – these are just people who have less options.

“When they stay they are usually nervous – some just want to have a shower and a safe space to be. But they are always polite and incredibly grateful.”

The number of people living on the streets – those rough for more than three weeks – in Lambeth has also dramatically increased from 19 people between April and June to 52 people between July and September.  

Last month, the Government made changes to the process for newly recognised refugees which means that people granted refugee status now have just seven days’ notice that they need to leave their accommodation.

Lambeth councillor Maria Kay said: “There are very real challenges with ongoing cuts to the public sector followed by the cost-of-living crisis having impacted most on those with least.

“This is reflected in the steep rise we have seen in the number of rough sleepers in our borough, up by more than 40 per cent over the last two years.

“The erosion of social housing under right to buy, the government’ failure to replace those homes and big increases in the costs of renting means it gets ever harder and ever more expensive to find people accommodation.

“Lambeth’s rough sleeping outreach teams are out day and night providing support to those in need to help get them into accommodation as quickly as possible.”

A spokeswomen for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We want to end rough sleeping and prevent homelessness before it occurs. That’s why we are spending over £2billion over three years to tackle the complex issues, including over £530million in London to help prevent evictions and support people off the streets.

“We are also providing a £200million fund to deliver an extra 2,400 homes by 2025 to support people who are at risk of sleeping rough.”

Pictured top: Jennie Barhan and her husband Mark Nixon who offer the spare room in their home to young people who would otherwise be sleeping rough (Picture: Jennie Barhan)

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