In December 2020 there were an estimated 700 rough sleepers on a typical night in London and the number is growing. 2019 figures confirm there were a total of 170,068 homeless people in the capital either staying with friends, squatting, or living in a hostel, night shelter or temporary Bed and Breakfast. 148 people died while homeless last year.
Ms London has recently announced plans for free homeless hygiene centres, to provide practical help and to address the chronic health concerns faced by the homeless, which have been compounded by the COVID outbreak. Today she has announced a fast-tracked housing strategy with two key elements. The provision of new, low cost, sustainably designed housing in the form of eco villages and a program to urgently refurbish London’s neglected government housing, that has lain fallow for years.
Building new low cost eco villages using innovative building technologies including converted shipping containers and prefabricated modular housing is key to Ms London’s vision. The fully self-contained villages will be scalable and modular in design capable of accommodating anywhere between 50 to 500 residents depending on the location. They will be a mix of shared and independent living arrangements suitable as long-term housing. City Hall will work with local companies, to fine tune and develop solutions that deploy leading edge renewable technologies and sustainable, low impact building practices. The villages becoming a showcase for British design capability and attracting sponsorship from private firms keen to demonstrate their green credentials.
Ms London stated “for too long the issue of London’s homeless has been viewed as impossible or as if the majority of homeless people are happy and don’t want to change. It is simple, we need to take action. We need to empower the homeless to change their lives and to do that they need somewhere to live, to put their lives in order and to allow them to start contributing and putting back into society. This will benefit all of us, improving our city and raising the standard of living for all Londoners.”
The refurbishment of the Newham tower blocks, cleared by the local council for the Olympics and which encompass 400 hundred flats, which currently remain empty, will also be an immediate priority for Ms London. The empty tower blocks, are considered an embarrassment for the local authorities given the current housing shortages, and viewed as the subject of inaction and neglect by successive governments.
Ms London said “how can it be possible that so much important housing has been allowed to decay and remain empty when Newham has the highest level of homelessness in the country– one out of every 24 people, the highest number of children living in poverty, the worst overcrowding of homes at 25%, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation. Added to this Newham has one of the worst Covid19 death rates in Britain. This simply will not continue on my watch.”
It is proposed that work will commence immediately on identifying available sites for the eco villages. Potential allotments at the Olympic Park precinct, directly under the Mayors control, will be made available immediately. Ms London will also work together with the leaders of other relevant boroughs to identify sites across London where the needs are most pressing.
Ms London said “yes this will be an opportunity to showcase new building technologies but most importantly it is about adopting technology with a very quick turnaround time that will provide low cost, appropriate housing where it is needed most. I will work together with the Boroughs where, with the right leadership from City Hall, we can expect to see plenty of good will to get these projects off the ground quick-smart after many years of neglect.”