‘Nothing will change for us’: For Britain’s homeless, promises from political parties always fall short

UK

Trevor is too scared to sleep in a tent at night like the other rough sleepers.

He sleeps on a park bench or in a doorway. It’s safer.

“Some people come along and set your tent on fire,” he tells me.

He says no one ever zips up their sleeping bags or tent doors in case they need to escape quickly.

This shocking story of the dangers faced by being homeless on the streets of London doesn’t seem to shock Trevor. It’s just part of life, he says.

“There’s no point reporting it to the police, they won’t do anything.”

At 53 years old, Trevor has been homeless for the best part of a decade.

Trevor
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Trevor often sleeps on a park bench or in a doorway

In and out of temporary accommodation, night shelters and hostels. He says he’s tired.

But he’s also fed up with what he says is a long line of broken political promises that have failed to tackle Britain’s worsening housing crisis.

“Every government has always said that they are going to solve this problem. But none of them have,” he says.

Trevor is right. Because the latest figures are stark and reveal a worsening situation.

In the run-up to the election, all of the political parties are promising to tackle the issue.

A ‘source of national shame’

The annual rough sleeping snapshot provides the government’s estimate for how many people were rough sleeping on a given night in autumn 2023.

It shows that 3,898 people were sleeping rough across England, an increase of 27% on the previous year.

And the number of people sleeping rough is now 61% higher than it was 10 years ago.

The Conservatives defend their record despite not having never met their 2019 manifesto promise to build 300,000 new homes a year.

Homelessness in London
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Broken political promises that have failed to tackle Britain’s worsening housing crisis

While Labour says they want to build 1.5m new homes in their first five years in power.

But crucially, there is no target for the number of affordable or social homes Labour would build.

And that is central to easing the housing crisis, according to Matt Downie, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis.

“The scale of rough sleeping is now a source of national shame. It is a sign of extreme inequality and must prompt a rethink at the highest levels of government,” he says.

Trevor
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Trevor has been homeless for the best part of a decade

“It cannot be overstated how dehumanising sleeping on the streets is. Through our frontline services we hear directly from people who have been spat at, urinated on or attacked simply because they do not have the security of a safe home. Things have got to change.

“To bring these numbers down, we urgently need Westminster to put long-term funding into the proven solutions. We need to see a commitment to build the levels of social housing we need every year.”

For Trevor, who is desperate to find a place to call home, the sums do not add up.

In his area of Brent, northwest London, rooms rent for upwards of £1000 a month. He has come to a Crisis drop-in centre to get help.

But they are busier than ever, explains operations manager Nick Bradshaw.

Nick Bradshaw
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Nick Bradshaw says Crisis has seen a 40 to 50% increase in some of the people approaching them for support

“Over the last six months, we’ve seen a 40 to 50% increase in some of the people approaching us for support. Which is huge,” Mr Bradshaw says.

“We’re seeing a lot more older adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s who have been in insecure accommodation, who are not able to stay there any more or have been sofa surfing.”

A rise in older homeless people

This rise in older people needing help is worrying charities like Crisis.

Older people can be more vulnerable, struggle with their health and can be harder to house because they might have less financial stability.

Homelessness among those aged 65 onwards has jumped by 13% in the last year. Now almost 14,000 people are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to the charity Independent Age.

67-year-old Cleon Riley
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Cleon Riley, 67, has been homeless since his partner died

At the drop in centre, I meet 67-year-old Cleon Riley, who has lived in this area all his life.

He tells me his partner died last month and the landlord wanted him out of the flat they shared.

“The landlord changed the locks and I was out on the street,” he says.

He tells me that one landlord wanted £1000 for a room. He cannot afford that. So he has been sleeping in a night shelter and wandering the streets during the day.

Stats

This centre is full of people who have been let down by the housing system. Most here tell me they feel forgotten about.

But there is one thing they can do to make their voices heard.

‘I don’t have faith in politics’

In the kitchen area, the homeless men are being urged to sign up to vote in this election.

Trevor is looking over the forms he needs to fill out in order to vote on 4 July.

Trevor hasn't voted since Brexit
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Trevor hasn’t voted since Brexit

He says he has always tried to vote. Brexit was the last time he went to a polling station.

“I don’t have much faith in politics or the government. I don’t think they’ve given me much inspiration recently,” he says.

And it is perhaps understandable that Trevor feels this way.

Read more:
Plans to ‘criminalise’ homelessness scrapped
Families homeless despite empty houses
Almost one million renters given no-fault evictions


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The COVID pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis has not just hit the homeless hard. Britons have seen the biggest drop in living standards in a generation and public services are stretched.

I ask Trevor if he will vote. He’s not sure, he tells me.

“Who am I voting for? Voting for change? What change? I’m 53 years of age. Nothing will change for us after this election. It’s like we’ve been forgotten.”

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