Sadly, Camden has unique levels of rough sleeping and street activity – this is due to our central location, with three mainline stations in the borough. The scourge of illegal drugs on our streets also remains, which can draw vulnerable rough sleepers into harmful scenarios and disrupt our communities. Up to 800 rough sleepers arriving on our streets each year, which places us in the top three UK local authority areas for recorded incidents of rough sleeping.
In spring 2018 rough sleeping and associated street activity peaked in Camden when on a single night we recorded 159 individuals. Against these stark challenges we developed a new Rough Sleeping Strategy which we called Routes off the Street. We recommissioned our outreach service to create a specialist Routes off the Street team based at a new hub in Camden Town.
In 2018 we were pleased to win £870,000 from the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative in recognition of this. The funding was the largest single award of any council in the UK besides the Greater London Authority, which delivers pan-London services. With these funds, Camden has developed new teams and resources to ensure that all those sleeping on our streets receive a service offer – meaning they no longer have to sleep rough and are able to rebuild their lives away from the street.
The Rough Sleeping Initiative is now in its third year of operation, and in the last year Camden received around £2m, including funding a 16-bed hostel for complex rough sleepers, providing vital short-stay beds with support to move into more settled options.
We have now also bid for £2.5m for the next 12 months, which includes a request to part-fund an innovative Multidisciplinary Team. This approach acknowledges and addresses the growing complexity of homeless individuals engaging with services in the borough, many of whom experience health exclusion, addiction, trauma-related illness and are at risk of disengagement from services and rough sleeping.
These new resources and huge efforts by Camden staff and third sector partners have been instrumental in helping rough sleepers. During covid, we were funded to get ‘everyone in’ and as a result were able to help over 450 individuals off the street, most of whom are now living in more settled accommodation. This has been positive for individuals who find themselves in this predicament and for our communities impacted by street activity.
Finally, we developed and invested in a new team called the Camden Hotspot Team, who can intervene – safely – at high-risk hotspots, helping vulnerable rough sleepers away from harm and tackling the crime and disorder which can blight our communities. The local government ministry is part-funding this work from the RSI grant. The Camden Hotspot Team has also been able to deliver the Euston Well-being Team to work more specifically to tackle the concerns and impacts being seen on land earmarked for HS2 development, improving the lives of our residents and helping to create safer communities.
Camden has for many years been impacted by concentrated hotspots where rough sleeping, drug activity and anti-social behaviour have been barriers to delivering services to those who most need them. I believe the council’s new approach has paid dividends to the safety of our residents and businesses.
Cllr Nadia Shah is Cabinet Member for Safer Communities at the London borough of Camden. She tweets @NadiaCamden