Councillor wants volunteer base in Camden to help homeless people ‘at sharp end of worst housing crisis since second world war’

A tent in Waterloo. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Camden should have a base for voluntary groups offering meals, showers and clothing for the homeless, according to a local politician.

Richard Cotton, Camden’s adviser on rough sleeping, suggested the council could provide a building that third-sector organisations could run – if funds allow.

He said it could be similar to the Solidarity Hub in Islington, which is a headquarters for outreach group Streets Kitchen and is provided by the council there.

Alternatively, Cllr Cotton suggested the council works with charities to use the Camden Routes Off The Streets Hub in Camden Town.

The borough has the second highest number of rough sleepers in London, partly because it is home to major transport hubs at King’s Cross and Euston.

The first report of the council’s rough sleeping adviser comes after a homeless woman in her 60s, Lidia Venegas – also known as Maria – died on the street in Kentish Town in January.

The life expectancy for rough sleepers is just 45 years old for men and 43 for women, and half of them have mental health needs.

More than a quarter are in care, 31 per cent have alcohol dependency, and 34 per cent have drug issues.

Cllr Cotton said most of them have also suffered trauma.

While the numbers of rough sleepers has reduced from a peak in 2018, it is “very much higher than at the turn of the century”.

“Rough sleepers are at the sharp end of the worst housing crisis since World War Two,” said Cllr Cotton. 

They are overwhelmingly from backgrounds affected by poverty.

He said the Everyone In scheme during Covid was very successful in Camden, with 107 people housed in a hotel in Hampstead where they were given access to specialist support.

He said the level of government funding during the pandemic “needs to be sustained if we are realistically to succeed in the government’s stated aim of ending rough sleeping for good”.

The council was awarded £6.7m government funding for a three-year project running until 2025 to increase help over winter.

It also has a grant to help rough sleepers with drug and alcohol treatment.

Amonst other recommendations in Cllr Cotton’s report are addressing hidden homelessness, such as sofa surfing, and cutting bureaucracy so people do not have to go through their stories several times and get help swiftly.

He heard about one person who wanted help tackling their drug addiction but it took three weeks for a response, “by which time the opportunity had been lost”.

Cllr Cotton and the cabinet member for safer communities Cllr Pat Callaghan joined Streets Kitchen’s early morning outreach from Camden Town to Tottenham Court Road tube station.

They met more than 100 people in a two-mile stretch.

“This made us wonder whether the street counts used by the council underestimate the true scale of the problem because figures provided by the council for that same period show a total of 90 rough sleepers,” said Cllr Cotton.

He suggested reviewing the way numbers are counted.

He also said there should be more publicity about ways the public can help.

People can contact the dedicated rough sleepers team at Routes off The Streets by calling the 24-hour freephone number 0808 800 0005, by email at, or by downloading the Camden StreetSafe app.

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