It is two years since we launched The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness. By ‘we’, I mean dozens of Labour activists and trade unionists, all of whom have made big contributions to the direction of the campaign and its work. When, one night two years ago, I googled “Labour” and “homelessness”, I expected to find a plethora of existing campaigns. That there was none at that time was both worrying and depressing.
In the time since, we have fed and clothed hundreds – perhaps thousands – of rough sleepers on the streets of London in particular. We have won the support of hundreds of MPs, councillors and members in our call for an end to homelessness. And we have published our own manifesto to end homelessness, following months of research supported by charities, trade unions, health professionals and, of course, the homeless.
I mention this now in part because it is worth reflecting on how many people have contributed to this project over the past two years, but also because the Labour Party now seems to have taken the issue to heart. I never doubted the good intentions of the Labour leadership or the rank-and-file Labour membership, but for years in opposition it felt like our party looked at this issue and found it too daunting and too complex to start addressing.
When, earlier this week week, I met with Ivan Lewis MP and Cllr Beth Knowles – Mayor Andy Burnham’s dream team dedicated to banishing homelessness from Manchester – I was heartened to learn how far along the team are towards implementing a strategy to achieve the ultimate goal. Most exciting of all, I am reliably informed that the national party intends to use the Manchester example as a guide to a UK-wide approach towards ending homelessness.
Gladly, one of the key pillars of the Manchester approach is to join up existing homelessness organisations into one, integrated network. This is the very first policy in our manifesto, written by GMB Young London chair, Ryan Maynes. In the manifesto, Ryan explains:
The lack of coordination between the key groups involved in the homelessness sector, combined with draconian cuts to local authority budgets and welfare reforms by the Conservatives has left the nation with its worst homelessness crisis in a generation. This can be reversed, however, with a strong, centralised structure, that works from the top down and the bottom up.
There are three main components to this top down and bottom up approach:
- National and Local Government
- Major homelessness charities
- Those in direct contact with homeless people, rough sleepers and potential homeless people
We always said that much of the required expertise and infrastructure was already out there, but it was not coordinated. This has suited the Tory government, as a divided, disorganised homelessness sector is less able to challenge the government policies which are causing the crisis. Burnham’s plan to end homelessness, then, is pleasingly similar to that of LCEH.
In January, he told LabourList:
We cannot end homelessness overnight but as Mayor I want to bring together churches, companies and voluntary groups to build a new partnership. This action network marks the start of that new approach and my personal ambition to end rough-sleeping here by the end of the decade.
It seems the Labour Party has fully woken up to this crisis. We have built a movement to end homelessness within our party, and LCEH has played a small part in this. At Labour Party Conference in September, our campaign will host a joint fringe event alongside LGBT Labour, specifically to discuss homelessness among the LGBT community. The event will be held at the Brighthelm Centre on Monday 25th September at 6pm.
This coalescence of campaigns is what the Labour movement at its best is all about. At last, it seems, we are getting somewhere. Sure in the knowledge that power concedes nothing without demand, soon we will be able to take Labour’s strategy to end homelessness to the government and to British people.