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We have a choice how we react to people who are sleeping rough

14 February, 2019

‘Only a small proportion of those offered beds take advantage of them’

• TULIP Siddiq is right that the number of people sleeping rough in the streets is a national catastrophe, (Rough sleeping is a national catastrophe, February 7).

However the reasons for the high numbers, especially in central London, are rather more complex than the “blame austerity” picture that her letter paints.

A senior Camden police officer recently reported that the police went out with Camden’s Safer Streets team and offered cold weather beds to 72 people. Only five people chose to take the offer up.

I understand from council officers that the situation is similar in Westminster. Only a small proportion of those offered beds take advantage of them.

The reasons for this will no doubt be individual to each person but if 90 per cent of the people offered a bed on a cold winter night do not actually want one then I think that blaming austerity for the high number of people sleeping rough is too simplistic. Professionals working in the area of homelessness say that this is typical.

Most people who are sleeping rough in the winter are already known to homeless services teams and have been given offers of assistance by councils and homeless charities, sometimes many times.

They don’t take them up because we, the public, are very generous. We give them money, much of which goes to buy drugs, fuelling crime and anti-social behaviour. We give them food and drink, we give them sleeping bags and tents.

All this generosity makes sleeping on the street preferable to going into a shelter or hostel. We are helping them stay on the streets.

If we want to reduce rough sleeping then investing in social housing, in addiction recovery, and mental health treatment, in Housing First schemes and other schemes to help the previously homeless, are important.

But so is what each of us does when we meet someone who is homeless. Do we help them get off the streets or do we make it easier for them to stay there? It is our choice.

Mercer Street, WC2


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