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Editor’s comment: Volunteers can’t solve the housing crisis

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 April 2017

Archive of Matt Lewis/Inés Alcalá

Hackney Winter Night Shelter volunteers Matt Lewis and wife Inés Alcalá.

To those of us fortunate enough never to have needed it, it may come as a surprise that the Hackney Winter Night Shelter (HWNS) is closed for seven months a year.

I didn’t realise until I met Donna “Dee Dee” Farrugia and Andy Hutchinson last year at one of Dee Dee’s remarkable pop-ups, where she heads a team dishing out free food, clothes and even haircuts to homeless people. It was there that Andy told me how much harder it can be for people like him to find a bed during the summer. Every year, come April 1, these people are back on the streets searching for a safe, warm place to stay. Not all of them will find it.

When we ran our Hidden Homeless series at the start of the year we wanted to focus on people stuck in unsuitable temporary accommodation as we felt their stories hadn’t been told. Some of those leaving the night shelter this month may well end up in these hostels; others will be forced to sleep rough. Some may not make it all the way to November to see HWNS reopen: life expectancy for homeless people is horrifyingly low, with men living on average to 47 and women to just 43, according to Crisis.

It should not be down to volunteers to provide such an indispensible service. It is disgusting that the rich are enjoying tax cuts while town halls are being squeezed for their housing stock and diminishing budgets. It is vital we find a way to help the shelter stay open longer, but the money and labour it takes to run should be provided by the government and administered by the council.

Volunteers cannot be responsible for housing the homeless. It reflects brilliantly on Hackney that the shelter exists, but rather less well on the Department for Communities and Local Government that its job is being done by people in their spare time.


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