London’s housing crisis is the single biggest barrier to prosperity, growth and fairness facing Londoners today. And the scourge of rough sleeping and homelessness – something many of us see on the streets of London every single day – is the sharpest end of this housing crisis.

Last year, more than 8,000 people slept rough in the capital at some point – a 6% rise on the previous year, and more than double compared with eight years ago. The latest figures – released only a few weeks ago – also show that the number of children who will be homeless and in temporary accommodation in London over the Christmas period will be well over 85,000.

I see this rise in rough sleeping and homelessness – in one of the wealthiest cities in the world – as a growing source of shame. And as Londoners, as a city, and as a country, I believe we have a moral duty to tackle it head-on.

Some people say that rough sleeping has always existed and always will – that there is nothing that can be done to stop it. That is simply not true. In the early 2000s, with a Labour government and a progressive mayor in City Hall working together, the number of people sleeping rough on London’s streets fell as low as a third of its current rate. Dreadful sights such as the so-called “cardboard city” at Waterloo were eradicated and everyone visiting or living in London could see the difference it made. We need the same relentless focus to do so again. We also need to build genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy. My new Homes for Londoners team has begun work on this. It will be a marathon, though, not a sprint.

There are many reasons why people end up sleeping rough, from mental health issues and problems with debt, to family break-ups, a gap in care services and drug addiction. This means that there is never going to be a silver bullet to solve the problem.

So I’m working with others on new, innovative and flexible solutions in Londonand coordinating action across the government, local boroughs, charities and the wider housing sector.

As part of this, I’ve recently announced that the new funding deal we’ve secured from the government to build more affordable homes will include £50m to invest in accommodation for people moving from hostels to longer-term independent living. This will help to fund about 850 spaces, dedicated to helping homeless people currently in hostels or victims of domestic abuse in refuges.

On top of this investment, I will be spending at least £9m of Greater London Authority funding every year on rough sleeping services, with targeted responses to help specific groups. For example, women are particularly vulnerable to abuse when they sleep on the streets. Understandably, female rough sleepers often respond to dangers by remaining “invisible”, choosing places to sleep that are hidden from view and disguising the real difficulty of their situation.

As a result, many of these women, including those escaping domestic abuse, are significantly less likely than men to access the help and support they need. That’s why I’ve decided to provide extra funding for the Female Hidden Homeless Project in London, which will provide targeted help for many women who have been sleeping rough for far too long.

All of this work is vitally important – and will make a huge difference to many lives. But the truth is, if we are to solve the problem of rough sleeping, we can’t only look to help rough sleepers on the streets now – we have to work to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. Prevention has to be front and centre of our approach. That’s why, a few months after becoming mayor, I launched the No Nights Sleeping Rough taskforce.

This new taskforce, which is chaired by my deputy mayor for housing, James Murray, is bringing together key players to help rough sleepers and to tackle the root causes of rough sleeping.

By bringing national government, homelessness charities, London councils, and other agencies together and forming a close partnership, I know we can make a real difference. This is already bearing fruit: working together, the taskforce has been successful in bidding for £4.3m for three new projects to help rough sleepers in the capital, and will continue to identify what new interventions are needed to tackle specific problems, lobbying the government for support where necessary.

London is the greatest city in the world. During my election campaign, I said time and again that we can’t just stand back and ignore the rise in rough sleeping and homelessness any longer. Of course it’s not going to be easy to tackle the problem and, just like the challenge of building the thousands of genuinely affordable homes London needs, I can’t promise to turn things around overnight. But at the start of this century, over a number of years, the City Hall administration dramatically reduced rough sleeping by working well with the government and others.

So I’m confident that we can do the same again – and that we can ensure fewer Londoners will have to face a night on the streets over Christmas in the years ahead.

 

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