Budget 2016: £115m for homelessness welcomed but won't solve underlying causes, say former rough sleepers

'I’ve got to ask is it going to make a huge difference? The bottom line is no'

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Indy Politics

In the Graham House hostel for former rough sleepers in south London, Clint Capell scrutinised news reports of George Osborne’s announcement of a £115m package to “tackle the homelessness crisis”.

He was grateful to the Chancellor, he said. “I would be stupid if I wasn’t.” And to the British people. “They really care. If I had been homeless in Africa, I would have been dead and buried by now.”

“But then,” adds Mr Capell, “I’ve got to ask is it going to make a huge difference? The bottom line is no.”

Mr Capell, 55, seemed the embodiment of the saying he learned on the street. “Everyone is two pay cheques away from homelessness.”

Well-spoken and university-educated, he once had a good job as an interior designer. Then, as he struggled to cope with being gay, his marriage broke up. He ended up in social housing, but was struck down by a serious illness that affected his ability to work, he struggled to pay the rent and was evicted.

To his amazement, in 2011, he found he had become “one of those people” – the rough sleepers he used to think should “get off their arses and go to work”.

He learned hard lessons about homelessness, reinforced – now that he is in a relatively comfortable hostel – by volunteering for Thames Reach, the charity running Graham House, as part of its street rescue team.

He has seen at first hand the seemingly intractable drugs, alcohol and mental health issues that forced many of his fellow rough sleepers on to the streets.

It was with this experience in mind, he said, that he was sceptical about the Chancellor’s talk of at least 2,000 independent living places and £10m over two years for homelessness prevention projects, with particular emphasis on London.

“Everyone’s going to say, ‘Wow, the Chancellor’s a great guy’,” said Mr Capell. “But then you break the £115m down. How much will Hull, Birmingham, Manchester get? Will it be enough to give ongoing help to lots of people? How many rough sleepers are there in London?”

The answer, according to the most recent data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network, is that 7,581 people slept rough at some point in London in 2015.  According to the Government’s own statistics, on a single night last autumn, there were 940 people sleeping on the capital’s streets.

Which led Mr Capell to consider the £115m and conclude: “It’s going to be peanuts for everyone.”

Nor, with the number of rough sleepers in England having doubled since 2010 according to Government figures, was Mr Capell inclined to consider George Osborne a great guy.

“He’s half the problem. Benefits sanctions are a big one. Then there are social housing cuts…”

Action, said Jeremy Swain, the chief executive of Thames Reach, is definitely needed.  “We are slowly creeping back to a situation more like the late Eighties where you had so-called ‘cardboard city’ encampments in London. £115m across the country is not a lot to spread around.”

He was, though, inclined to give Mr Osborne some benefit of the doubt. “We need to know more detail,” he said. “But it could be fantastic.” 

Among the 69 former rough sleepers of Graham House, however, scepticism reigned supreme.

“I would take my hat off to him, said Sinclair Archer, 30, “If it really happens.”

Mr Archer, who spent 10 years battling heroin and crack addiction, said that because he was not a pregnant woman or disabled, he did not fit statutory eligibility criteria, “so they show you the exit”.