London: Improvements for the homeless

A new campaign to improve the lot of homeless people in London has been gathering steam after it was launched by the London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP), finds Freedom newspaper.

Submitted by Freedom on December 14, 2007

LCAP, which was set up in August as a means of providing support to people who are not getting their legal rights through taking on ‘direct action casework’, identified homelessness as a growing problem in the capitol as resources are stripped away from shelter provision. Mat, a volunteer for LCAP, spoke to Freedom in a personal capacity about the group and campaign.

He said: “Some people we know who are in advice work in the area tipped us off about "gatekeeping. This is where the workers in the office, tell people who are legally entitled to help with housing or emergency accommodation that they "can't help them right now" or prevent them from making a homelessness application and instead redirect them to the council housing list - a joke considering people can be on it for years!

“Sometimes they simply tell people who may well be sleeping rough to come back for an appointment in a week’s time - even though they meet at least three of the five tests of homelessness and are therefore entitled to emergency accommodation there and then.

“This has been going on for years and given the lack of investment in any form of social housing, and the destruction of council housing is only going to get worse. Who is responsible? Well obviously we blame capital!”

Practical work has centred around Hackney where LCAP started out, as a project incorporating Haringey Solidarity Group, Solidarity Federation members, the Advisory Service for Squatters, Hackney Independent, IWW members and supportive workers from CABs and law centres who believe direct action needs to back up peoples’ legal rights to make them effective.

Matt added: “We are putting pressure on the individual housing workers to do what their job says they are supposed to, but of course they are under pressure from their management, who are under pressure from Hackney Council - so we are targetting the council and its cabinet.

“They do have the power to improve things, at the end of the day we don't blame the housing workers themselves, it's the council that makes policy and we are expanding the campaign with the knowledge we have gained through our casework to target the council itself. We've already disrupted one meeting with a halloween trick or treat themed picket attended by over fifty people and we will be going down that route more and more.”

Other cases taken on so far have included work around debt and bailiff problems in Haringey and even taking on loan shark shops. The idea was brought over from North America, where the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty has had huge success in reversing years of difficulty in making the state adhere to its responsibilities.

LCAP has already built up a sizeable number of contacts, with over 100 people on a database of potential helpers, including professional law, benefits, housing and employment personnel, but are looking for more help.

While LCAP as an initiative has been organised by anarchists, and is being run on libertarian class struggle lines, it aimed at as wide a sector of the population as possible and includes members with a broad range of politics.It is also looking to work with workplace organisers, with a sub group planning a possible ‘know your rights’ seminar with SolFed and the IWW.

LCAP will demonstrate over the denial of housing rights at Hackney Council's Cabinet meeting on Monday the 17th of December 6pm to 7.30pm.

To get in touch, email LCAP at londoncoalitionagainstpoverty AT, or call 07932 241 737. Help is required both from skilled workers and general hands – free training days are run for people wanting to get involved.

- By Rob Ray-