Westminster Council is spending nearly £7 million a year on trying to help an “ever increasing number” of rough sleepers camped out in the West End.
A report from the Mayor of London’s office shows Westminster’s rough sleeping population rose to 2,512 from 2017/18 to 2018/19, an increase of 16%.
Although this was down from 2,857 in 2015/16, the figures show more than 14% of the rough sleepers had been living in the borough for two years or more.
And 22% of the borough’s rough sleepers had travelled from abroad, according to the figures compiled by City Hall and (CHAIN), the Combined Homelessness and Information Network
Tory council leader Nickie Aiken pointed to a long-running issue of rough sleepers, including those from abroad, who “refuse to engage” with the council or charities that attempt to offer them help.
She urged the Government to replace the 195-year-old Vagrancy Act, developed following the Napoleonic Wars, with “more humane” legislation that will empower councils.
“[These] figures should act as a call to action. They demonstrate that an ever increasing number of rough sleepers — a significant number from abroad — are turning up on the capital’s streets,” Ms Aiken said.
“We need to repeal the Vagrancy Act and replace with more humane approach that connects people with the services that will save their lives.
“While people have heart breaking and complex reasons for ending up rough sleeping, the reality in all cases is that local authorities are left struggling to pick up the pieces.
“The vast majority of those that engage with us to get help for drug or alcohol addiction, housing or mental health support, and stay off the streets for good.
“However,” she added, “a minority of people sleeping rough are refusing to engage with us, the Police or Health Services. They are entrenched on the streets, living off public donations, putting their lives in danger and acting in anti-social ways.
“It cannot be right the country is dealing with this 21st century phenomena of mass movement of people across borders, both international and national, using outdated laws such as the Vagrancy Act of 1824.”
By LDRS reporter Owen Sheppard