Homelessness in London: Why it is becoming unmanageable
Updated 23:54, 17-Aug-2023
Catherine Drew in London

One in 50 Londoners are homeless and housed in temporary accommodation, according to a group representing London's 32 borough councils, which describes the situation as an unfolding disaster. The group London Councils say there has been a 110 percent rise in homeless families placed in temporary accommodation over the past year.

One of them is Piotr Rembikowski, who has been housed in two different budget hotels for a year, with his wife and two sons, aged 15 and 20. Piotr and his wife, who arrived from Poland 22 years ago have had a run of bad luck. In April last year, he was badly injured in an accident that left him unable to continue working as a carpenter. Four months later their family home, which they'd rented for 16 years, burnt down.

'It's hard'

"Like here, we have no access to a fridge, or any cooking facility, nothing at all, just dry food," he tells CGTN Europe as we visit him in his hotel room. "We just have the shower, the bed and nothing else. It's hard."

As Piotr no longer has a permanent address, his physical therapy sessions have had to be paused. And it is unclear where his 15-year-old son will be able to go to school when the new term begins in September.


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Local authorities use budget hotels as emergency accommodation across the UK but the issue is particularly acute in London. Nearly 170,000 people are housed in temporary accommodation, and just under half of those are children, which means there is one child in every classroom who is living in limbo.

Families should be moved from emergency accommodation within six weeks. But the group London Councils says there has been a near 800 percent rise in families exceeding that limit, at a collective cost of $76 million a month.

A homeless person's tent is seen in front of Gail's cafe in London. /Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters
A homeless person's tent is seen in front of Gail's cafe in London. /Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

A homeless person's tent is seen in front of Gail's cafe in London. /Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

A clear emergency

Darren Rodwell, London Council's lead on Housing, says London boroughs face a total lack of other options. 

"Homelessness pressures across London are fast becoming unmanageable and the government needs to treat it as the emergency it clearly is," he said in a statement.

London councils are demanding higher social payments, so families can afford to rent in the private sector, and more financial support to prevent evictions. However, the UK government says it has made funding available to local councils to help them deal with this issue. 

In a statement issued in response to the plea from London Councils, the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said: "We have a strong track record of delivering affordable homes to rent and buy across the country through our $14.6 billion Affordable Homes Programme. We have also announced $12.7 billion investment into housing supply and are on track to deliver our target of one million new homes this Parliament."


'It makes me feel ashamed'

Meanwhile, homeless charities say the number of people living on the streets of the capital increased nearly 10 percent between April and June of this year.

"We don't just deal with housing, we deal with need here, and we're talking about real need," Ian Breen, Center Manager for Acton Homeless Concern told CGTN Europe. "We give them food bank vouchers, we give them clothing."

Having worked in the homelessness sector for many years, Breen is familiar with the problem, but exasperated.

"It makes me feel ashamed that a country that is one of the richest countries in the world, isn't helping enough," laments Breen.

‌Having experienced a year of living in temporary accommodation, Breen's frustration resonates with Piotr as he waits for the council to rehome his family.

"I know there's some people that are in whatever, Africa, somewhere, have a war situation," he told CGTN Europe, "But in London we are [supposed to be] in the 21st century."

Piotr has launched a campaign to raise funds to support himself and his family. 

Homelessness in London: Why it is becoming unmanageable

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