Making the new year happy – for everyone

Article @ Morning Star, published 1 January 2016

Homeless Londoners were not left out of the New Year’s celebrations as Labour Party activists hit the streets handing out hot drinks, soups and warm clothes to the capital’s most vulnerable.


Volunteers with the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness (LCEH) shunned champagne and fireworks and instead spent the night distributing food and good cheer.


Despite a nearly nine-hour long action dozens of rough sleepers were still approaching the outreach teams into the early hours.


As London’s Mayor spent an estimated £1.8 million on fireworks, activists found out the meaning behind statistics that the number of homeless people in the city has been allowed to double in the last five years.


Wembley Central councillor and LCEH chairman Sam Stopp told the Star on the night that the movement was “street-focused, rather than just a think tank or talking shop.


“We are going to be taking this nationwide, trying to get people in all major cities out on the streets as much as possible.”


The campaign aims to push the party to create policies to end homelessness by 2030 — a job Mr Stopp knows will be hard until Labour is back in power.


The 25-year-old added that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory showed “people want a Labour Party that isn’t cloistered in Westminster.


“I think there’s probably never been a better time to do something like this than now.


“We feel very uninhibited about going out and being a street-based campaign and a genuine movement that touches people who really need the Labour Party.


“We don’t do it for ourselves but I can’t deny it’s very rewarding.”


Teams of volunteers with flasks of hot water and bags full of chicken noodles stopped at Wood Green, Islington and Camden Town before heading to the West End.


Stuart Henderson, who had been homeless for many years, was one of the first people the team encountered.


The son of a trade union organiser, Mr Henderson was nearly moved to tears by the solidarity action, saying that few remembered the homeless on New Year’s Eve.


“This is what Labour needs,” he said as he sat on the Strand looking at intoxicated revellers walk by.


At the heart of the campaign is Lucie Hill-Hempstead, a Labour Party activist who was once homeless herself.


“I tell my story quite a lot because I think these things need to be read, you need something to spark consciousness sometimes,” said the mother-of-two.


“What is different about this campaign is that we are very dynamic.


“We are out there on the streets getting our hands dirty and getting really involved and speaking to people, but we are also speaking with MPs and actually trying to come up with some kind of solution.”


“We are Labour but we are just people, we are just young activists who want to do something, who want to make some change,” added Ms Hill-Hempstead after giving out hugs along with cups of tea.


“Things like this is what Labour needs to be concentrating on.”


According to the Department for Communities and Local Government rough sleeping in London has rised by 14 per cent in the last year.


Over 7,500 homeless people now live on the capital’s streets — up from just over 3,600 in 2009/2010.