London Mayor candidate Rory Stewart visits Stratford to discuss homelessness
- Credit: Archant
London Mayor candidate Rory Stewart joined campaigners helping rough sleepers in the Stratford Centre in a bid to learn more about the homelessness crisis.
He was shown around on Friday, February 7 by Lorraine Tabone, who set up Lola's Homeless in 2015 to help feed the 50 to 100 people who were then sleeping there each night.
Ms Tabone and her volunteers have battled to get some into temporary accommodation and a number of homeless initiatives were recently introduced to help deal with rough sleeping in Newham.
Now between 20 to 30 people are seen staying in the underpass every evening, sleeping in the doorways of Costa and Poundland.
Mr Stewart, the former Tory cabinet minister who is running as an independent candidate in May's election, visited as part of his campaign to walk through each of the capital's 32 boroughs as he tries to unseat Labour's incumbent in City Hall, Sadiq Khan.
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Speaking about Lola's Homeless, he said: "This is a project which is quite literally saving lives… This is a story about affordable housing. It's a story about cuts. It's a story about shelters closing."
The mall is a public right of way and popular route to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and cannot be locked. Last year Newham council decided against imposing a Public Space Protection Order in the centre, which would have seen it shut between midnight and 5am.
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The council instead set up a 'homelessness taskforce', which is exploring ways of helping the rough sleepers.
Ms Tabone, who relies on donations to complete her community work, said : "For four years I've fed, clothed, given advice, led a number of fantastic volunteers. We've built a community. Four and a half years ago there was between 80 and 100 people sleeping in the shopping centre. The numbers counted this week, I know one night there was 18 people. Today I was told there was 28 people. We just need somewhere to practice and make a change."
Mr Stewart, a former diplomat, is looking to sleep on the floors and sofas of Londoners as part of his campaign. He posted a video online asking other Londoners to: "Please have me to stay."
He insisted that the best way to get to know the city was by "being in other people's shoes, seeing through their eyes, staying in their houses".
He said: "One of the things you learn listening to someone like Lorraine is just how complicated it is but probably the strongest lesson of all is the sense the she knows what she is talking about, she does it, she cares. She has got this amazing combination of toughness and compassion. If we are really to make areas like this in London work, it is partly about finding out how you get behind people like Lorraine and thousands of other people like her across the capital."