As new figures show a record increase in homeless deaths, politicians walk past rough sleepers outside Parliament every day. So why is progress on tackling homelessness still so slow?by Tara Jane O'Reilly / October 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
The borough of Westminster is notorious for its poor handling of homelessness. I know that all too well; I experienced it myself. I was lucky to have a relative’s floor to sleep on while the council took four months to rehouse a mother and two teenagers.
Others aren’t so lucky. Across England and Wales, new figures show, homeless deaths have risen by record levels, with an average of two deaths a day. There is no excuse for politicians’ lack of awareness of this issue: homelessness in Westminster has risen 16 per cent between April 2018 and March 2019, and the council is regularly under fire for its attitude towards homelessness. Outside the Houses of Parliament, rough sleepers settle outside the Tesco metro and coffee shops, or inside Westminster tube station, passed by MPs and their staff every day.
You would expect—or at least hope—that homelessness on the doorstep of the Palace of Westminster, the most powerful institution in the UK and where hundreds of powerful people walk each day, would be treated with compassion and support.
Instead, they have been evicted from their sleeping space and a metal barrier has been installed to block their entrance to where they would sleep.
If an MP walked into Parliament to find their pass revoked and themselves barred from entering their office, there would be an uproar, and people would be held accountable. Whilst it is reported Parliament is offering the rough sleepers support, they were given no prior warning and forced to find somewhere else to go.
One of the rough sleepers described it as “money wasted on deterrents” and said the barrier is just a “way to stop them [rough sleepers] sleeping. Not actually getting anyone off the streets.”
Anti-homelessness activists staged a protest on Monday evening outside the newly installed barrier and moments away from where two rough sleepers died last year, with John McDonnell tweeting solidarity with the activists. It is welcome news that the Shadow Chancellor is paying attention, but the silence and inaction from many in Westminster—whilst finding time to protest prorogation in the chamber—illustrates just how out of touch the Westminster bubble really is with the lives of everyday people. It is tempting to get sucked into the Westminster bubble and distance yourself from real…