Volunteers accuse Camden of 'complacency' on homelessness

Homelessness is on the rise in the borough. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Homelessness is on the rise in the borough. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Following a busy festive season, two volunteers have said Camden Council is not doing enough to help the homeless.

Phil Cowan, who volunteers for Camden Streets Kitchen, and is standing as an independent candidate in Primrose Hill in the May elections, has accused the council of "complacency" compared to its neighbours.

"It was very busy over Christmas and new year, which is not something I would celebrate because of the number of people on the streets," he said.

"I've been, on so many occasions, helping people trying to navigate through this system and I'm finding it absolutely impossible.

"I'm not singling out any individual but the whole thing has a complacency about it that we don't find in other local authorities.

"There seems to be a much more proactive set of resources in places such as Islington and Hackney."

Camden Streets Kitchen provides hot food for the homeless

Camden Streets Kitchen provides hot food for the homeless - Credit: Camden Streets Kitchen

Streets Kitchen founder Jon Glackin, who started the service in Camden some seven years ago, agreed.

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"I've been running numbers [of groups] and I'm actually seeing less services than ever before and these services are terrible at the moment, particularly Camden," he said. "Camden's very badly serviced." 

Camden has the second highest number of rough sleepers coming into it of any area in the UK, according to the council, which sponsors Routes off the Street (RTS), in Greenland Street.

The organisation supports 650 single homeless people hostels and runs programmes to help women involved in high-risk street activity and people with limited recourse to public funds.

It brings together health, care and support for people to make a sustained break from the cycle of homelessness, said Cllr Nadia Shah, Camden's lead member for safer communities.

“RTS is making a huge positive impact," she added.

However, Phil said RTS is difficult to get hold of on the phone, adding: "It should do what it says on the tin but it doesn't do that."

He claims that when, last year, he found a homeless woman in Underhill Passage "very distressed", who asked him to help her find somewhere to sleep, all RTS did was provide a blanket.

"I thought the whole thing was appalling," he said. "I'm volunteering, I'm not paid to help. They get a salary. It's just not good enough."

A spokesperson for RTS said the charity does not recognise the criticism and that it is "a professional street outreach team, which engages with up to 800 rough sleepers each year".

“We want to work with all partner organisations across Camden so that anyone sleeping rough can receive professional support," they said.

"We continue to meet with the team at Streets Kitchen and commend them for the work they do providing food and clothing on the streets.

"Our aim is to continue to strengthen these relationships, to increase the number of referrals to RTS.

"Sadly, distrust of support services can prevent referrals and we do not recognise the allegations and criticisms being made about RTS.

"We do have a rigorous complaints procedure, and if there is a specific complaint or concern, please contact our service and ask to speak to a manager."

They added: "RTS is a specialist service, working with the most vulnerable rough sleepers – people who are bedded down on the street.

"We work proactively to help rough sleepers access vital services, move into interim accommodation, and rebuild their lives." 

Cllr Shah said: "We work with our partners all year round to support people sleeping rough to rebuild their lives away from the street and regain independence – but we remain under constant pressure as Camden, an international transport hub and centre of a world-city, has the second highest number of rough sleepers come into it out of any area in the UK.

"We need the government to ensure that ending homelessness is a priority, that there is funding for everyone on our streets and for them to back us to build more council housing.

"We will not stop until we have removed the inequality and poverty which leads to homelessness.”

RTS operates a "single point of contact" phone line for rough sleepers to call free on 0808 800 0005 as well as a Streetsafe app for people to report that someone is homeless. Alternatively, email streetsafe@cgl.org.uk or calling  0207 846 3535.