Homelessness among students is ‘a hidden problem’
Students are among those being forced to rely on community kitchens to survive. Described by London Metropolitan University’s Patrick Mulrenan as a “hidden problem” – the issue came to light at a protest over homelessness in Camden.
Demonstrators confronted Camden councillors earlier this week before a key debate on homelessness in the Borough. Streets Kitchen, the group behind the demonstration, demanded that councillors set out a plan to prevent homeless deaths on London’s streets this winter.
The council debate and demonstration took place nearly two weeks after a man died sleeping rough outside the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, the latest in a spate of homeless deaths dubbed a “national scandal” by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
As winter draws in, preventing more deaths on Britain’s streets has become a priority for local authorities. But Streets Kitchen have raised concerns about local councils’ reliance on the voluntary sector, which they say could limit rough sleepers’ access to ‘services’ this winter.
Green Party co-leader, Cllr. Sian Berry, spoke to protestors and press at the demonstration, which took place outside Camden’s Crowndale Centre. Addressing the nationwide crisis, Berry said: “With the largest number of people sleeping on Camden’s streets, we should be the ones shouting loudest to the government about needing support to give people shelter. It seems that a lot of government policies are designed to let some people slip through the net, to be left without a home. I think that’s immoral, illegal and against people’s human rights.”
Camden has the second-highest number of rough sleepers of any local authority in the UK, after Westminster.
Jon Glackin, who founded Streets Kitchen, also believes that Camden councillors need to find bold solutions so that everyone can access shelter this winter. But Glackin sees London’s student population as a source of hope.
“Students, because they’re such a big body, could do something directly with people on the streets,” he said. “We’ve noticed that at some central London universities, anti-homeless architecture is being built to stop rough sleepers from resting there, but students are very important to us; they get stuff done.”
According to Glackin, however, the number of poverty-stricken students visiting Streets Kitchen is rising. He warned that “with student loans, university is very restrictive. If people can’t find cheap accommodation, they’re going to have to try sofa surfing, or they’re going to have to sleep on the streets.
“We get quite a few students [at Streets Kitchen]: students whose loans have run out and can’t afford to eat. They don’t have parents who can subsidise them. It’s a lot harder for students in London because it’s so expensive.”
Universities do not normally collect data on the number of homeless students. None of the participants in research conducted by London Metropolitan University’s Patrick Mulrenan had approached support services at their universities. He told us that “there is no real information on the numbers of students homeless. This means it is a hidden problem.”
Camden Council’s leader, Georgia Gould, addressed hidden homelessness among under 25s during Monday’s debate. She highlighted the hostel support already available to young people in the Borough. For the wider community, Gould called for “national change” to solve Camden’s homelessness crisis. She said: “this is about long-term support. We need help to lobby government to continue the support we give. We can’t continue to step in whilst the government is failing.”