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Rise in homelessness in Kingston

Housing and homelessness is a key issue in Kingston.

Labour members have been out talking to people in Cambridge Road Estate, listening to the worries and concerns about the proposed regeneration of such a large area of housing. Now the Mayor of London has stepped in, as this footage shows, and will be issuing guidance on how estate regeneration should take place.

In the worst cases of regeneration, many ordinary people have lost out. But the Housing Planning Act with its dictates to councils on the length of tenancies will impact on the Cambridge Road Estate regeneration and, perhaps, on the increasing need to deal with Kingston homelessness. 

Yesterday’s piece on the impact of Housing Planning Act 2016 from the Kingston and Surbiton Executive Committee is followed below by a personal view from member Sarah-Jane Brownlie, which puts in perspective the rise in homelessness in Kingston. Government policy on housing, mental health and benefits and welfare and social security, have all contributed.

Laure South, Labour Chair

The rise in homelessness

I’m an early riser in part because there is always so much to do. So many people who need an advocate and there are not many of us around.  But mostly it is to walk my dog as I love the misty morning in our local park. Over the last few years I see more and more dishevelled looking young people with fear in their eyes, chilled to the bone from being exposed to the night air.

One such chap managed to speak with me. He looked as if he had not eaten for a very long time. He told me that he was about to try and drown himself in the pond, as he had nothing left. He had been released by the police at 2 a.m. a couple of nights earlier after his wife had told the police he had hit her. The police detained him, took his keys despite him having a joint tenancy, and advised the wife to change the locks. It turned out that there was no further action taken against him since there was no evidence against him. But there was plenty against her: he still had the marks from where she had attacked him.

He had spent the two weeks prior to this taking care of his young son with no money coming in as the carers allowance he had been claiming was stopped when his wife had left with another man. He had phoned the authorities to say he was no longer able to care for his disabled wife and he was prioritising feeding his son over himself.

There was nothing left on him.  He had not eaten in a very long time. He had been introduced to me by another homeless man we had supported who had lived in the back of a car. This was at the time of a “no second night” policy for providing the homeless with a bed. The outside temperature had reach a bone chilling minus five.  Neither of these men had been born in Britain but both had come to work and support family they already had here. The reason they were there was fear pure and simple. They did not know where to go or how to go about changing things for themselves.

These are not the only people we have helped over the years but their experiences are typical of the people we have supported.  After six years of Conservative rule it is not just young men but there are the disabled, with severe mental or physical health problems and ex-squaddies who are finding themselves in the same situation. They simply cannot find ways of getting the support they need. Filling out forms or knowing who to ask is a nightmare they live with. It drives them onto the streets.  If they are very lucky Kingston Church Housing will take then on, if they can arrange to get the local housing allowance or housing benefit as it used to be called. Then they might get a room with the wonderful Young Man’s Christian Association, or the YMCA, in Surbiton.

But this leaves them in a bind as most wish to work. The trouble is there is only low paid work available to them if they do get a job and then the cost of living at the YMCA increases massively. They lose housing benefit and then their room.

I can say that after a bit of support neither remained outside. One is working and volunteering for the local homeless house where he ended up living. The other has a room and doing everything he can to get permanent employment, proudly telling me he has had two interviews, but could I please help him with his CV.

I feel deep sorrow that after six years there are now more scared people who are still playing hide and seek with the park keepers.  As we move into the end of Autumn and with the government imposing a cap on benefits, the increase in homelessness will only rise, especially since the local housing allowance will not cover the price of renting in Kingston& Surbiton. This is before taking into account the price of a deposit on a rented property, which amounts to three months rent. For a one bed roomed flat the average cost is around £250 a week. Not many will have that sort of money.   

I feel that now many pensioners living in council and social housing are on such tight incomes, the imposition of the “bedroom tax” will be the next cause of homelessness and this will be amongst grand-parents. Basically, if you have what is deemed to be a spare room, your benefits will be reduced to try and make you find a smaller home.

You only have to go through Kingston in the early hours, as I often do, to see the regulars: men, women and young people huddled in doorways wrapped against the cold. Today all you need to do is Walk down Surbiton high street and you will find two or three beggars. Walk around the parks or take a bus ride to see people in the bus shelters with everything they own in holdalls at their feet.

Sarah-Jane Brownlie

The Kingston and Surbiton Labour Party will be campaigning on Housing throughout the borough including a lobby outside of the tenants meeting at Piper Hall, Piper Road, Kingston, KT1 3EX at 19.00 on Tuesday the 29th November.

Everyone is welcome to join the Kingston and Surbiton CLP's campaign on Housing.

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