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London needs to do more to protect its homeless citizens


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Imagine you’re a homeless person, walking the streets under the beating rain through the maze that is London’s metropolitan city, overshadowed and taunted by the cavernous buildings.

Patronising eyes peer around doorways and follow your every move in condescension. You walk through the streets in search of a crash pad for the night, and glare through the passing shiny windows to look upon the polished, clean, warm floors of empty lobbies of skyscrapers, thinking about the abundant leg room you would have in there.

After hours of searching you finally find a sheltered slot to lay your wet blanket down onto its hard and filthy concrete ground, only to be met by metal spikes that protrude from the ground as if to say “keep walking mate”.

In the past few years, Islington has become a sanctum for London’s homeless citizens. Forced out of the city by defensive architecture, the rate of homelessness has soared in the borough.

Private businesses have been spiking their grounds to prevent loitering, a technique any Londoner will have noticed in the City of London with the increase in curved metal benches, sloping narrow bus stop seats and, of course, the tiny metal pyramids bulging along the ground – all homeless deterrents, designed to scare away the needy.

Since the era of Charles Dickens, it appears as though London’s lack of shelter hasn't improved much. Jono Pearson, a 54-year-old homeless man and 3-year resident of Islington’s streets revealed: “There’s hundreds [of homeless people] strolling about. No spot, if you can find one, is guaranteed anymore”. Once the workers and tourists head home, a hidden mass of homeless people scurry from out of the shadows and hunt for a sheltered space to sleep.

The sad reality is that it isn't hard to become homeless in today’s world. The housing and homeless charity, Shelter, explain that people see homelessness as the cause of personal failings, however people can lose their home through unemployment, poverty, housing policies or the structure and administration of housing benefits. More personal situations, like the breakdown of a relationship, domestic violence or parents, friends or relatives unwilling or unable accommodate a person can also lead to homelessness.

With local councils implementing anti-homeless measures by laying down spikes, and with private businesses following suit, many people are left wondering just who is protecting the needs of the homeless?

Ex-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, promised to stop rough sleeping when he stood for Mayor back in 2008. Yet statistics taken by the charity Crisis recorded in 2015 show that the number of people sleeping rough in England doubled from 1,768 in 2010 to 3,569.

In 2014, the then Mayor had a set of spikes outside a luxury block of London flats removed, after describing them as "ugly, self-defeating and stupid” on his twitter account. His tweet sparked a petition that saw over 130,000 signatures fight for the cause.

Matthew Clark, trustee of Shelter from the Storm, commented on the Mayor’s efforts: “The people voiced their concerns and we saw change. It’s fantastic to know that it is possible, we just need to get the message across to people in other boroughs”.

While the influx of people onto the streets appears to have increased, so have the options available to homeless people, like CARIS Islington, which offers a night shelter. Homeless UK also offer support to young people between the age of 16-21 and Islington Supported Housing, a ‘53 bed project providing accommodation and low to medium generic support for people with immediate and ongoing needs in Islington’ – yet many homeless people aren't aware of the facilities available to them.

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has outlined in his ‘Manifesto for all Londoners’; his vision to deliver decent and affordable houses and strengthen efforts to reduce homelessness.

Major cities all around the world disown their city's cardboard citizens for a better-looking landscape, not empathising with the struggles and strife they bear. London should not follow suit and accept this neglectful mentality.

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