Today TheIndependent is launching its most ambitious campaign ever: a two-year commitment to tackle the problem of homelessness.
The reason why can be seen by all of those living in London, or many other major Western cities. A walk down any main street or arcade can too often brings the sight of someone sleeping rough in a doorway or side alley.
Homelessness is a global issue with complex roots, from poverty and mental health to discrimination and migration.
In London last night almost 9,000 people had nowhere but the pavement to live, double the figure of only six years ago. And rough sleepers are only the most visible sign of this crisis. In total some 170,000 people are now believed to be homeless in the UK’s capital alone.
Most of these have no choice but to grasp temporary respite at a hostel, seek a friend’s floor to rest on, or are reduced to travelling round and round on a night bus for warmth.
Homelessness in London (Jeremy Selwyn)
Recently I visited the Marylebone Project, a drop-in centre for homeless women in the centre of London which due to lack of funds can only welcome new people for four hours a day.
The women and staff spoke to me of the importance of a women’s-only service; of how too often it had been the threat posed by men that had made those it helps homeless in the first place.
They talked also of how, in the absence of a 24/7 centre, women had been reduced to sitting in McDonalds or A&E through the night for safety.
One, Sophia, who at her lowest ebb of addiction found herself destitute, told me how it had been the Project that gave her the strength to start rebuilding her life.
Evgeny Lebedev with Sophia inside the Marylebone Project (Jeremy Selwyn)
“Sometimes I find myself at the gates of hell”, she said, “I did not realise until I came here that I could be loved.”
Our objective in this campaign is to provide financial support to bodies like the Marylebone Project and to highlight the stories of those like Sophia, all around the world, and to make sure that they too are not forgotten.
We are pleased to be partnering with the Big Sleepout, who on 7 December will hold the world’s largest display of solidarity with the homeless, from Trafalgar Square in London, to Edinburgh, New York, Los Angeles, New Delhi, Manila, Santiago and Hutt City in New Zealand.
We will also be working alongside the London Homeless Collective in the city at the centre of the UK’s homelessness crisis, its capital, and will be fundraising for its programmes.
Evgeny Lebedev inside the Marylebone Project
Tonight, some 100 million people around the world are united by not having a place to sleep. We know this is an ambitious initiative. But our campaign is a challenge to readers about what kind of world they want to live in.
To this end I am pleased that The Independent, along with our sister title the Evening Standard, has launched The Homeless Fund to help people who find themselves in this torrid situation. With your help, The Independent will work towards a future where no one needs to worry where they will sleep tonight.