Housing Specification Blog

Keeping Up Appearances: Homelessness and London 2012

July 5, 2012 Alexandra Blakeman Housing Issues

On Monday (2nd July) 300 people who experienced life on the streets sung in the Royal Albert Hall as part of The Cultural Olympiad at the London 2012 Festival. The event, ‘With One Voice’ is the first time that homeless people have been given a visible platform, allowing them to join in the celebrations for the forthcoming Olympic Games.

Click on image for original link.

In previous Games little focus has been given over to the homeless of the host cities. ‘With One Voice’ marked a memorable moment where London’s homeless were recognised as citizens of the capital. When London 2012 was announced in 2005, homelessness charities were keen to use the platform to highlight the severe problem of rough sleeping in the capital.

The ‘No one Left Out’ initiative was set up under the Labour government in 2008. The strategy outlined aims to end rough sleeping in LondonĀ  by 2012. With the opening ceremony on the horizon, how far has the capital come in its eradication of homelessness?

It is difficult to declare the exact number of homeless people in the capital, or indeed elsewhere in the country. Rough estimates can be made but with so many people sleeping on public transport or in derelict properties, it’s hard to gain a clear idea.

In the first quarter of the year The Guardian reported a 14% rise in homelessness in England. The combination of unemployment rates and escalating rental costs is to blame for the increase.

In the same article from The Guardian, it was reported that the housing minister, Grant Shapps, blamed “the debt-laden economy we inherited [which] is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country”.

Recently I blogged about the effects of the housing benefits cuts for under 25s. It’s feared that this will cause a significant rise in the number of young people sleeping rough on Britain’s streets.

Pro-active work to end homelessness is underway. Since June, the charity Homeless Link have enforced their ‘No Second Night Out‘ initiative around the capital. The project aims to co-ordinate the way that out-reach teams function so that rough sleepers are identified and helped quickly. A new assessment centre has been created to provide services for the homeless, advising them on alternative accommodation options.

Homeless Link, are partnering with St Mungo’s and Centre Point to launch the Olympic Legacy campaign, to ensure that campaigns continue when the Games have finished.

Previous host cities have surfaced, post Olympics, with a rather tarnished reputation for disguising their homelessness problem. The 2012 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada saw an outbreak of discontent over the apparent ‘cleaning up’ of the homeless around the training villages and competition grounds.

London Mayor Boris Johnson focused on homelessness in his campaign for re-election to his post earlier this year. Working hard to present London in its best light for the forthcoming Games, I’m sure that he will want to avoid any accusations of ‘hiding the homeless’. After all surely we’re wanting to use The Games as a celebration of London as it exists and functions in 2012, rather than this polished and pretend city born out of vain ideals.



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