Recently we were visited by Charlie, Greenwich Council’s Rough Sleeping Coordinator. She came to give WSUP volunteers a talk about rough sleeping in the borough.
I knew there was a housing crisis but I didn’t realise the scale of the problem. Last month an overnight count by the Council and WSUP found 38 rough sleepers in the borough. But being homeless doesn’t just mean rough sleeping. According to Shelter, in 2022 there were nearly 4,500 homeless people in the borough of Greenwich. The Council has almost 30,000 people on the housing waiting list with only about 1,000 homes becoming available for rent each year.
Many homeless people are in emergency and temporary accommodation and this is in short supply in London. The definition of homeless also includes people who can’t live at home because of violence or dangerous conditions, and people who are sofa surfing with friends. The Council has to house people as far away as Luton because there isn’t accommodation available locally.
Charlie told us the first step if someone is sleeping rough and we want to help is to use the Streetlink website to connect the person to support services. The Council will verify that the person is sleeping rough using a system called Chain. Someone from the Housing Inclusion and Support Service will need to go out and actually see the person sleeping outside. It can be very difficult to verify someone if they don’t have any documentation – many rough sleepers don’t. The Council also needs to confirm that the person has the right to be in the UK before they can help and this can be a lengthy process.
Some rough sleepers are so traumatised that they don’t want engage with the Council or anyone they see as an authority figure. Some will only come inside during very cold weather when the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) is activated. Beds are put into the town hall during this time so people can stay out of the extreme cold, but this is only when the temperature falls below zero degrees Celsius for three or more consecutive nights.
Although the team at the Council will do their best to help people, the lack of accommodation means it can take months, even years, to house people. At WSUP’s drop-in sessions we offer rough sleepers, and others in need, hot meals and services that aren’t available anywhere else in the borough like showers and laundry. We can’t solve the problem of rough sleeping but we can give people a place to get warm and signpost them to other services who can help with housing, mental health and addiction issues.
Image by Nick Fewings