Mayor launches taskforce to tackle ‘shameful’ rise in rough sleeping

Sadiq Khan
Tackling homelessness: London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has launched a new taskforce to combat the “unacceptable” rise in the number of people sleeping rough in London.

New figures from homelessness charity St Mungo’s revealed that 8,096 people spent at least one night on the capital’s streets last year, a seven per cent increase compared to the previous year.

The Mayor’s ‘No Nights Sleeping Rough’ taskforce is being led by deputy mayor for housing James Murray and met for the first time last week.

Sadiq Khan said: “The number of people sleeping rough is clearly unacceptable. I won’t allow this problem to be ignored. I want my new taskforce to make a real impact by ensuring government, the voluntary sector, boroughs, and others are working together effectively to help people off the streets.”

The taskforce brings together officials from five London boroughs with the highest number of rough sleepers – Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Camden, Lambeth and the City – and figures from leading charities such as St Mungo’s and Crisis.

They will work with the Metropolitan Police, NHS and Transport for London (TfL) to tackle specific problems affecting homeless people, including housing and mental health provision.

A recent study by St Mungo’s revealed that four in ten people sleeping rough suffer from mental health problems.

St Mungo's world record attempt
Grassroots: charity volunteers attempt world record. Photograph: St Mungo’s

To mark today’s (10 October) World Homelessness Day and World Mental Health Day, staff and volunteers from St Mungo’s handed in a petition signed by almost 15,000 people to 10 Downing Street, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to lead an ambitious rough sleeping strategy.

St Mungo’s organised a successful Guinness World Record attempt last week for the largest gathering of people in sleeping bags. The event, held at King Edward Memorial Park in London, aimed to raise awareness for both the petition and the charity’s national ‘Stop the Scandal’ campaign.

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said: “Rough sleeping is dangerous and ruins lives. People with mental health problems are particularly at risk amongst this group of very vulnerable people.

“The rise in all forms of homelessness further reinforces the urgency with which the issue of homelessness has to be dealt with. Our research indicates that four in ten people sleeping rough have mental health issues.

“By any measure these figures are unacceptable. Today we strongly urge the Prime Minister to take action and lead a new, ambitious strategy to end rough sleeping.”

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