Labour has pledged to try to greatly reduce the number of people sleeping rough by doubling the number of homes reserved for those who have been homeless, calling on the government to introduce this measure immediately.
The scheme, announced by the shadow housing minister, John Healey, would see the charity-run Clearing House scheme to provide secure accommodation for former rough sleepers expanded and set up in new locations.
Currently the charity St Mungo’s has 3,750 flats across London intended for people with a history of rough sleeping, operating the scheme on behalf of the Greater London Authority.
Healey said the Labour scheme would involve another 4,000 properties set aside for people who have been homeless in cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester.
These would be let at “genuinely affordable social rents”, the announcement said, and those housed would need to be either British nationals or otherwise eligible for social housing.
Labour argues that since changes to the law in 2011, those who have been homeless are more likely to be housed in private rented homes, which offer less security and a greater likelihood of them ending up back on the streets.
The party’s statement noted that the officially recorded number of rough sleepers – generally seen as an underestimate – reached a low in 2009 of 464, but had now risen to 3,569. Earlier this month, a homeless man was found dead in Birmingham following the coldest night of the year.
Homelessness was “not inevitable in a country as decent and well-off as ours”, Healey said.
“This problem can be solved, but it demands a new national will to do so,” he said. “The rapidly rising number of people sleeping in doorways and on park benches shames us all. There can be no excuses – it must end. Full stop.
“This growing homelessness should shame the government most of all. The spiralling rise in street homelessness results directly from decisions made by ministers since 2010 on housing, and on funding for charities and councils.”
Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of St Mungo’s, said the charity welcomed the announcement.
“We know that the Clearing House model works,” he said, adding that since it started 25 years ago the service had referred 13,500 people to stable accommodation.
“But homelessness is about more than housing,” he said. “Homeless people are also often facing challenging health issues, needing to improve skills and employability and wanting to form, and keep, positive relationships for moving on.
“This is why we will continue to press for all parties to commit to secure future funding for supported housing, to help vulnerable people with the most complex needs to get the help they need to rebuild their lives.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said homelessness was still at less than half of its 2003 level, and the government had provided £50m to councils to assist rough sleepers.
“We’ve also set out the largest affordable house building programme of any government since the 1970s,” he said.
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