Across the UK, under the Conservative government, the number of people sleeping rough has doubled.
Here in Portsmouth, the City Council has yet to release the most recent figures. But after conversations with Housing Officers, I can reveal that almost two-thirds of people sleeping on the streets of Portsmouth are doing so in Charles Dickens Ward. This alone is a pressing reason why we must continue to campaign against the closure of Guildhall Walk, which offers GP access to many of our city’s homeless population. And its an issue people are raising with me on the doorstep.
I want to talk about the issue of homelessness more broadly. Lives are being ruined by the policies of a government which finds it easier to punish the poorest – through cuts to benefits, attempts to reclassify disabilities, the bedroom tax – than to tackle Britain’s top-down inequality. We might be on the brink of another financial crisis. When it comes, you can be sure that homelessness will increase. It won’t be an issue only for the most vulnerable in society. It will be an issue for your next-door neighbour, out of a job and unable to cover the mortgage. It will be an issue for veterans, released from the Armed Forces after further Tory cuts. It might even be an issue for you.
The hard truth is, homelessness is an issue for every one of us, and it’s an issue right now. That’s why it must be a priority for Portsmouth City Council.
In 2015, 2,500 Portsmouth people showed the compassion that I recognise as a Pompey trait. They signed a petition, asking the Council to open empty buildings, to shelter our homeless people. They were ignored.
If I am elected in May, I promise to be a strong voice for everyone in the ward and for the most vulnerable in our city. And for all those decent people who understand how lucky they are to close their front door against cold winter air.
Almost two-thirds of rough sleepers identified in 2015 were in Charles Dickens Ward. More support is vital.
I will fight for stronger ties with the excellent local charities and community groups that do such great work locally, such as Rethink’s Central Point Service, the Salvation Army, Southern Domestic Abuse Service, the Society of St James, St Judes’ Church, and Friends Without Borders, to name but a few. They have real expertise to offer in re-assessing how we tackle homelessness, both in terms of providing better support, and through more effective preventative services.
Crucially, I will also challenge current thinking within the Council. We can be more innovative in our responses. We can move away from simply handing targets over to external providers, and towards a holistic approach that recognises all the factors contributing to homelessness – from housing and jobs, to health. And we can all play our part to address this social concern.
If homelessness is an issue close to your heart, I’d like to hear your thoughts.