14 September 2019

Westminster, London's wealthiest borough, also has the label of having the largest numbers of homeless people anywhere in London. It's a contrast that highlights all too well the massive gap between rich and poor in 21st century Britain.

This is nothing new, however. Westminster's wealth has always attracted those who are in desperate need of it.

What is new however is the stark fact that there has been a big spike in the number of homeless people in Westminster who have travelled here from Europe.

And worryingly, it's been made clear that some of these rough sleepers bedding down in Westminster could have been victims of human trafficking.

434 new people on the streets

It comes as the latest data revealed that there are “very high levels of new people coming to the streets of Westminster from around the world”.

A street count in July found 389 people on the street – with just 123 who said they were from the UK and Ireland. This means there are “significant challenges” and limited help on offer for people who are not entitled to welfare support.

The first three months of the year saw 434 new people on Westminster streets, a drop from the previous quarter of 504, but still up on previous years.

Councillor Ian Adams who is cabinet member for public protection, said people are attracted to the borough which includes the seat of government and tourist destinations as “all main railway lines and a lot of roads end up here.”

However, he said eight in ten new arrivals do not spend a second night on the street, but get linked with support services.

'Many will be there under duress'

He told last night’s (September 10) city management and public protection committee the high numbers in Westminster were part of “ a geopolitical problem, if I’m honest. Many people are coming here currently from Eastern Europe, many from Roumania. That’s a concern of mine, not least around the welfare of some of the Roma community who are impacted.”

He said the council, police and other agencies were looking at issues around human trafficking.

“A lot of the people you will see walking up and down my high street, the Edgware Road, a lot of women in particular they will be there probably under duress as well,” he commented.

He added there was “a very serious issue around human trafficking”.

Councillor Adams explained he thought one of the reasons for the spike in rough sleepers from elsewhere in the EU this summer was perhaps related to political events around Brexit.

In July there were 232 people from other EU countries rough sleepers in Westminster, with 123 from the UK and Ireland. There were were no details about the 26 others.

In May 2018 there were 133 people from other EU countries out of a total of 299 rough sleepers. And this May the street count recorded 138 rough sleepers from EU countries apart from the UK and Ireland.

'A final surge before we depart the EU'

“I think there is a – I hesitate to say a final surge – before we depart the European Union but there is a view that misinformation among these communities and these vulnerable communities back home, what I said about trafficking aspect, that they are ensnared and incentivised to come here for one last opportunity to find the proverbial “gold on the streets” here and I think that is having a significant impact.”

Councillor Adams also answered questions about tents along the central reservation on Park Lane. The land is owned by TFL and the council has worked with the police and courts and is continuing to lobby government about it.

He described an operation to clear a hidden enclosure in August.

“Inside that there was a small encampment, only 20 people, including somebody (who was) vulnerable.”

However he said the encampment had come back.

Sara Sutton, who is the council’s director of city management and communities said tents are a “real barrier to engagement” and stressed people are offered support first.

If you are about to be made homeless then your first point of call is your local council.

Advice from Westminster Homeless Action Together if you're facing homelessness:

You can ask the council for help if you're homeless now or facing homelessness within 8 weeks. This includes when you've received a section 21 notice. Shelter has advice online for different situations, visit their website here. Citizen's Advice offers practical, impartial information online, over the phone and face to face in their local advice centres.

If your local council is Westminster their homelessness prevention service has information on the process for accessing support to help prevent you becoming homeless as well as making a homeless application. Visit their website here.

If you are a single person who is sleeping outside, then The Passage provides advice and support on behalf of Westminster Council. Visit their website here for their contact details and opening times.

Source: MyLondon