What is Westminster Homeless Action Together (WHAT)?
Westminster Homeless Action Together is a partnership which organised a week of action between 10th and 17th July 2016, during which over 200 volunteers went out onto the streets of Westminster to gather more information about our street homeless population. The week was part of a European-wide initiative to end rough sleeping. This week of action was all about engaging the public in a conversation on the issue of rough sleeping. It was an exercise to listen to homeless people about what had caused them to be homeless and what could make a difference to help them come off the streets. It was also an opportunity for the community in Westminster to be part of helping to provide perspectives and solutions beyond the usual people who work for homeless charities and the local Council.
Although the Mayoral initiative “No Second Night Out” has made great headway in the past few years and now 60-70% of new rough sleepers in Westminster spend only one night outside, the number of rough sleepers is still rising.
Our homeless population is not only rising but we are also seeing changes in their needs and demographics leaving us with a number of key challenges to ending street homelessness:
The housing crisis means that even when people are engaging we may struggle to offer them suitable housing options
Restrictions in public spending as budgets for welfare etc. are cut further
We have an entrenched group of long term rough sleepers with multiple and complex needs
A proportion of rough sleepers are unwilling to engage with services
Changes to benefit laws and the increased migration of peoples across Europe has led to an increase in EU citizens and other non UK born migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds or many who are working in low paid jobs and unable to afford the spiralling rent costs in London
Westminster City Council and charities in the borough are working hard to addressing the continuously changing nature of rough sleeping within the city but we need to do more.
What did we find?
How do we hope that Westminster Homeless Action Together (WHAT) will help to change the current situation?
We hope that through engagement of the Westminster community in training and going out on the streets to meet people sleeping rough we will both force a rethink about how to end street homelessness and raise the profile of the issue by:
Raising the profile and increasing understanding of the challenges of a growing problem, not only in London but across Europe
Taking a fresh look through different eyes and tapping into new thinking and resources e.g. housing, time, energy and ongoing commitment to volunteer, ideas, innovative and creative thinking about scalable solutions for migrants
Identify gaps in service provision and solutions to these
The WHAT Network is for employees and volunteers from charities, community groups, faith groups and public sector agencies, that help rough sleepers in the Borough of Westminster. The aim is to share news, information and assist partnership working for projects and initiatives. We have a monthly e-bulletin (sign up here) and quarterly forum meetings.