By Cllr Sam Stopp – LCEH, Chair
Something is stirring in the Labour movement. Above the fray of factionalism, The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness has caught the imagination of Labour activists up and down the country. A campaign which began six months ago with a LabourList article has become a nationwide call to action.
On New Year’s Day, The Morning Star reported our London-wide outreach mission the night before. This was an amazing show of solidarity by countless Labour people across London, but such one-off events are nowhere near enough. If Labour is truly to become a mass movement, it must deploy as many of its nearly 400,000 members on the streets every night. Rough sleepers do not need our words – they need our deeds.
And so, from London in the south to Glasgow in the north, Labour members are coming forward to set up outreach bases that will deliver much-need supplies to the UK’s rapidly growing numbers of rough sleepers. In London alone, the number of rough sleepers has increased from 3,600 to 7,500 since the Tories took power in 2010. The need is real, the crisis is urgent.
You may call this the new politics, but really there is something timeless about people on the left choosing to organise, to band together and to take their politics out onto the streets. The spirit of the Jarrow marchers, the heroes of Cable Street and the striking miners is alive and well in our campaign. And our demand is simple: an end to homelessness.
As our campaign grows, we are busy developing policy proposals that we hope will be adopted in the next Labour manifesto. The remarkable Frederick Douglass once declared, “Power concedes nothing without demand.” But our demands must be so well-thought-out as to be irrefutable. So, along with our fundamental call for an end to homelessness, we will reveal over the coming months the nuance of our message, the substance of our aim.
Away from the frontline of nightly outreach missions, we have forged relationships with some of Labour’s key influncers on housing and homelessness. From Labour’s Shadow Housing Team, Teresa Pearce MP has stepped forward to become our patron. At the London Assembly, Tom Copley AM – Labour’s housing spokesman – is working with us to take the Mayor to task, while we are in touch with Sadiq Khan’s own Mayoral campaign about working together. And in places as far removed from one another as Birmingham and Islington, Labour councillors are stepping forward to support us in opening up empty buildings to house the homeless.
The further we journey into the dark world of homelessness, the more it becomes obvious that the homelessness crisis and the crisis of inequality are one and the same thing. You cannot solve either crisis without addressing a seemingly never-ending list of inequities. From inadequate mental health funding, to a lack of genuinely affordable housing, to the myth of fair wages, to the grotesque failure of UK drug laws, we as a society are failing those most in need every single day.
But the future need not be so bleak. This is the sixth richest country in the world and the ability to end homelessness is well within our power. In the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, for instance, every single person has a home. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, homelessness on the Emerald Isle is at record lows. All that is needed to end homelessness is the political will to do it.
So, if you are Labour and you want to do more than simply talk about fighting for equality, then join our campaign and together we will end homelessness.