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Living on night buses and walking the streets, young people are hidden homeless

Town Hall warned that real level of homelessness has not been properly recorded

17 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Phil Kerry speaking at Monday’s full council meeting

A HIDDEN number of homeless young people are walking the streets or sleeping on buses with nowhere to go.

Council chiefs were urged to consider emergency shelter for younger rough sleepers on Monday evening as they warned that the scale of the problem is not being charted in official ­statistics. The red alert came during an all-member debate on homelessness which saw Camden invite experts to give an insight into life on the streets to all councillors.

A New Journal investigation last week revealed how a homeless man was found dead in a Chalk Farm doorway, amid mounting concern about the levels of rough sleeping as the temperatures begin to fall.

In one of the most striking contributions, Phil Kerry, the chief executive of youth charity New Horizons, said that the large number of people now sleeping on the street was just “the tip of the iceberg” when it came to younger people.

He said: “We know a lot of homelessness for young people is hidden.They are resourceful and use their talents for surviving. Many are sofa-surfing, moving from extended family to friends or colleagues. We know at New Horizons that 30 per cent of rough sleepers are doing that with sofa-surfing. But sofa-surfing is a route into rough sleep­ing for young people.”

Mr Kerry added: “They are not the people outside Koko. If they are rough sleeping they will be doing it in a way that is hidden. They will be doing it by getting around on buses all night, or walking the streets.”

The debate was unfold­ing in the temporary “Town Hall” at the Crown­dale Centre, close to several sites in and around Camden High Street where rough sleeping has become more visible. As a snapshot, Mr Kerry said 45 young people attended New Horizons in Somers Town on Halloween, adding: “We need more emergency shelters, we need short-stay accommodation. We need to be honest about scale of youth homelessness in the city.”

He told the chamber: “The Greater London Authority estimates that 7,480 people slept rough in London last year – unsurprisingly most of those are in Camden and Westminster. Most are men, most single. What is a surprise is only 604 are considered to be young. That’s not a figure that tallies with our experi­ence. We welcome over 1,000 people every year. Around 350 sleep rough. When you take just New Horizons, and all the other providers, it is likely to be a lot more.”

When Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited New Horizons last year, he said: “In the days of the bendy bus, you basic­ally didn’t have to pay at night, and on the 29 you would have students and homeless going to Enfield and back at night.” There had been a protest outside the temporary Town Hall, in the Crowndale Centre, called following the wake of the death in Chalk Farm.

Former Mayor Cllr Richard Cotton, who as mayor campaigned for a homeless charity, said: “We are living in one of the richest countries in the world, and the richest cities in the world, and you can walk home this evening past loads of people sleeping in the doorways. It is disgusting.”

Conservative councillor Maria Higson said there was a significant problem when it came to the number of homeless people being assessed for specialist services.| One of the things I found interesting is that 54 per cent of rough sleepers assessed had drugs support needs – compared to 40 per cent for Greater London.  That’s significantly  higher.  And when we have addressed people, of 230 individuals just 82 have engaged with specialist services – that’s a lot lower.”

Council leader Council Georgia Gould said: “In Camden we do have a youth hostel pathway. We do look after our care leavers up to 25. We have 272 beds, with wrap­around support. “I have definitely experienced case work where young people have called me up and had nowhere to go and I’ve had to lean on New Horizons. That area of hidden homeless and services for young people is something we need to look into more and maybe one of our scrutiny committees can run a proper report on.”


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