handsHomelessness in England has reached crisis proportions.

Last year a total of 3,569 people were reported to be sleeping on the streets, a rise of 30% on the previous year’s total. This national trend is reflected in Portsmouth too with the official number of rough sleepers on our city’s streets increasing from 5 in 2010 to 15 in 2015.

There is a growing crisis in the housing market which has led to this increase in homelessness. People can no longer afford to pay the higher rents demanded by private landlords, either because their wages have failed to keep pace with rents or because of stricter benefit sanctions; in some cases a tenant has become homeless because the landlord has ended an assured shorthold tenancy and the tenant has nowhere to go.

Councils are finding it impossible to meet the increased demand for temporary accommodation. A year ago, the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness (LCEH) was set up to encourage the party to make a firm commitment to end the desperate problem of homelessness. Now a number of key policy commitments have been identified to make this pledge a reality. The campaign has been backed by a number of leading national homelessness charities such as Crisis and Shelter which share the view that by working together we can end homelessness.

Under the previous Labour government, homelessness fell substantially, but it was not eradicated. Yet in recent years government statistics show that homelessness has doubled nationally with the need for more social housing being ignored in favour of increased support for the private housing market.

In an open letter to The Guardian dated 18 August 2016, the campaign group made up of MPs, councillors and party activists from across the country have called for Labour to make real the pledge to end homelessness. The letter states:

“We ask the Party to consider five key policies which will go towards eradicating homelessness. We also ask that the next Labour government enacts these policies in the order set out below:

  • A government-led national structure involving all of the major organisations, including statutory and community sector organisations, dedicated to ending homelessness.
  • Implement more efficient preventative measures and early intervention programmes to stop homelessness becoming entrenched and end the cycle.
  • Create a more effective registration system and information database of rough sleepers and hidden homeless to begin the process of rehousing.
  • Enshrine the right to a home for everyone and begin the process of rehousing all of the UK’s homeless population, including those with complex needs.
  • Launch a substantial and sustainable programme of public and social house building.”

Cllr Stephen Morgan, Labour’s housing spokesperson, has given his strong backing to the LCEH campaign group’s pledge to end homelessness, saying:

“I welcome this open letter on what Labour should do to end homelessness in our country, and have therefore added my name. These proposals are well-thought through, evidence-based and practical. They are just the solutions we need to see to end homelessness once and for all. They have my full support here in Portsmouth”.

Since being elected to Portsmouth City Council in May 2016, Cllr Morgan has joined a member-led working group to explore local issues, work with partner agencies and find innovative ways to address rough sleeping in the city.