Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessnessRough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness

Having joined the annual count of rough sleepers in Redbridge last month, Councillor Jo Blackman (Labour, Wanstead Village) reports on the council's work to tackle homelessness.

For those who are lucky enough, the festive season was spent indulging with friends and family. However, it was also a time to think of others who are less fortunate, particularly rough sleepers, as the cold nights draw in.

This was brought home to me last month. As my daughters were compiling their letters to Santa, I joined the annual count of rough sleepers in Redbridge and saw first-hand the desperate situation they face. The Ilford Recorder's powerful series on homelessness shone a light on the tragedy of 10 rough sleepers who died in Ilford in the last year. Life expectancy for rough sleepers is 43 for women and 47 for men. In London, rough sleeping has doubled since 2010 and numbers in Redbridge are among the highest in the capital.

Rough sleepers often fall through the gaps of housing support. Around 80% of those in The Salvation Army winter shelter in Ilford have no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status. Many rough sleepers have issues with mental and physical health and substance misuse, and face a lack of accommodation from emergency hostels.

Council leader Jas Athwal pledged he wanted no one to sleep rough in the borough over Christmas. A second shelter with 32 beds is due to have been opened by the time this publication goes to print, in addition to the 28-bed winter shelter run by The Salvation Army in Ilford, and a new hostel, Project Malachi, is due to open in summer 2019.

Redbridge Together crowdfunder has been established to support these efforts and raise funds for The Salvation Army and The Welcome Centre to support rough sleepers. I hope that Wanstead residents will consider supporting this initiative, which is going to make a tangible difference.

Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness. But the number of homeless is far higher than the number of rough sleepers, as they refer to people who have no secure or suitable accommodation – of which there are estimated to be over 7,000 in Redbridge. Eviction from the private rented sector is now the largest single cause of homelessness in Redbridge – with high costs and benefits reforms key factors.

A consultation is currently underway on the council's homelessness strategy, which will help deliver the aim of zero rough sleeping. This will build on the progress already made, including the delivery of the council's pledge in 2018 that no families with children would be in bed and breakfast beyond six weeks.

Working with the voluntary sector, Mayor of London and government, we are determined to make a difference on homelessness.

The council consultation runs until 22 February – visit wavidi.co/homeless

To donate to Redbridge Together, visit wavidi.co/redbridgetogether

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