Campaigners voice concerns about what happens to those turned away for support after becoming trapped in a “particularly cruel catch-22”.
Thousands of homeless people have been turned away from London’s flagship No Second Night Out (NSNO) scheme in recent years, Byline Times can reveal.
Figures released under Freedom of Information show that, between August 2015 and March 2019, 4,280 people were turned away from the service due to lack of space. Although the data shows a downward trend since the end of 2017, significant numbers are still unable to access the programme.
Launched by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson in 2011, No Second Night Out (NSNO) is intended to help people who find themselves sleeping rough for the first time. Once a person is identified as a new rough sleeper, their details are added to a multi-agency database and they then have 24 hours to access one of the NSNO hubs. Once there, they should be provided with an offer of support to prevent them from needing to sleep rough.
It seems a policy that was trying to prevent a de facto queuing system for hostel spaces has created a particularly cruel catch-22 for people rough sleeping.Sian Berry, London Assembly Member and Co-leader of the Green Party
However, several London-based charity workers have spoken to Byline Times to raise concerns about problems accessing the service. They say that, if a person is unable to access the hubs for any reason, they become ineligible to use the system in the future.
Last July, co-leader of the Green Party and London Assembly member, Sian Berry, raised the issue with Sadiq Khan at Mayor’s Question Time.
She said: “A constituent has contacted me concerned that problems with capacity at No Second Night Out hubs can mean a verified rough sleeper added to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database is denied subsequent access to the hubs even if they did not receive any support the first time they were referred due to a lack of vacancies.”
Mr Khan replied that this was “current policy”, but that “exceptions are made where there are concerns around increased vulnerability”.
Catch-22 for Rough Sleepers
Ms Berry told Byline Times today that it is “ludicrous” that people who are unable to access the service due to lack of space are denied access in the future.
“It seems a policy that was trying to prevent a de facto queuing system for hostel spaces has created a particularly cruel catch-22 for people rough sleeping,” she said.
“I’m really worried about people being turned away because this could lead to concerned outreach workers not adding a rough sleeper to the CHAIN database until a vacancy becomes available to ensure they can access the service, which risks under-counting.”
We’re told that every new rough sleeper should go straight into the system. But, if I do that, there’s a good chance there won’t be a space for them and then they’ll be unable to get in any time in the future.Homelessness support worker
This is exactly what one homelessness worker we spoke to admitted doing. They said that the system works well for those who can access it, but that too many are turned away.
“I know it sounds bad but, I have to manipulate the system to make it work for the people I’m helping,” the worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said. “I won’t put somebody onto the database until I know there is space in one of the hubs for them.
“That’s not what we are supposed to do. We’re told that every new rough sleeper should go straight into the system. But, if I do that, there’s a good chance there won’t be a space for them and then they’ll be unable to get in any time in the future.”
We now know that No Second Night Out is not the solution it is portrayed to be. Where do all these people go who are being turned away?”Jon Glackin, Streets Kitchen
Founder of the homeless support group Streets Kitchen, Jon Glackin, said the news raises real concerns about what happens to the people who are turned away.
“We now know that No Second Night Out is not the solution it is portrayed to be,” he said. “Where do all these people go who are being turned away? People are going to be left feeling let down and will be more hesitant to access services in the future.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The rise in rough sleeping is a national disgrace, and more and more people are being forced onto the streets by the Government’s policies, including welfare cuts and not enough investment into social housing.
“Our services at City Hall are helping a record number of rough sleepers, as we’ve doubled our rough sleeping budget and the size of our outreach team. Rough sleepers should be offered help from a variety of services by their local council working alongside the Mayor’s services – but the reality is that all services are stretched to their limits.
“Sadiq has secured extra funding from the national Government to boost the services he and local councils can offer. However, substantially more investment from government is needed – alongside an honest focus on the root causes of homelessness – if we are to truly end rough sleeping in London.”