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Joanna Lumley supports drive to end rough sleeping in Lambeth

14 years after Waterloo's 'Cardboard City' at the Bullring was finally cleared to make way for the IMAX cinema, the Thames Reach charity and Lambeth Council have launched a new initiative to end rough sleeping in the borough.

Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley [library picture]

The initiative was launched on Monday night at the offices of MEC in Paris Garden near the South Bank at a special event attended by Thames Reach supporter and Lambeth resident Joanna Lumley.

The Thames Reach charity manages the Lambeth Street Outreach Response Team (Lambeth SORT), funded by and working in partnership with Lambeth Council.

Speaking at the launch event, Thames Reach chief executive Jeremy Swain recalled visiting the Bullring (where the BFI IMAX now stands) in the 1980s and counting 60 rough sleepers and another 120 in the undercroft of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

For the past decade the number of rough sleepers in Lambeth has usually been under 25 on any one night and Thames Reach now believes that rough sleeping in the borough can be ended for good within a matter of months.

The number of people living on the streets long-term has been reduced dramatically since this time last year, falling from 16 people to less than five.

A new assessment centre is also being set up which will provide support to people if they become homeless and its aim is to ensure that nobody spends a second night on the streets.

Stockwell resident Joanna Lumley, a long-term supporter of Thames Reach, described Jeremy Swain as one of her "all-time heroes".

She told guests at Monday's event that Lambeth is like a series of villages and called on residents of the borough to pull together to give their backing to the initiative and make sure that rough sleepers are given the support they need to stay off the streets.

“Rough sleeping is a damaging experience that destroys the health and self-esteem of those who stay on the street for prolonged periods," said Jeremy Swain.

"We are aware too of the negative impact on communities which is why we are committed to giving everyone the chance of coming off the streets and into a safe and supportive environment.

"We believe that 2012 should be the year when nobody need sleep rough in the borough of Lambeth.”

Although the initiative covers the whole of Lambeth, the north of the borough around the South Bank and Waterloo is still the area with the largest concentration of rough sleepers.

Cllr Jim Dickson, Lambeth's cabinet member for health and wellbeing, pledged the council's wholehearted support for the initiative but sounded a note of caution.

"We have got some big challenges – I think people know that we've got welfare reform coming down the time which is going to affect what we are able to do," he said.

"There is a shortage of money for some of the services."

Cllr Dickson, a former leader of the council, said: "I remember very well when we were dealing with the Bullring. It was a bittersweet experience: we felt that in changing the Bullring – and putting the BFI IMAX there – that we were helping to regenerate the South Bank but we were always very aware that in many ways we were displacing the problem.

He added: "What I think at the time we were grappling with the Bullring would have felt like an impossible dream – to actually have no rough sleepers in the borough – I do feel that as a result of people's efforts is absolutely within reach."

• If you spot someone sleeping rough in the borough of Lambeth, you can phone the Lambeth SORT helpline on 0870 383 3300 and the outreach team will investigate.

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