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Former fire station for homeless Londoners

07 May 2019

THE MAYOR of London, Sadiq Khan, has visited the first homelessness service to move into the former Clerkenwell fire station building, which City Hall is bringing back into use.

Sadiq called on private developers and businesses across London to follow suit by offering empty buildings and properties they own as locations from which City Hall can run extra shelters and services for rough sleepers. There is wide concern among Londoners over new homes being left empty, and in London there are more than 22,000 commercial properties that have been out of use for at least six months.

Working with the London Fire Commissioner and Islington Council, the Mayor has brought Clerkenwell fire station back into use for homelessness services, with the first to move in being the UK’s first LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer) homeless shelter.

Sadiq visited the newly opened LGBTIQ+ shelter, which has moved from its previous site in Camden to a larger more flexible space at the former Clerkenwell fire station. The fire station has stood empty since the previous Mayor closed it down and has now been brought back into temporary use as a venue for homeless services, while discussions around the long term development plans of the site continue.

The Mayor provided £50,000 to The Outside Project to run the LGBTIQ+ shelter and centre in partnership with Stonewall Housing, who have been supporting LGBTIQ+ people in London for over 35 years. The larger space offered by the Clerkenwell site is also enabling the project to run a community centre during the daytime.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said, “It is wrong that so many buildings across London stand empty when there’s a housing crisis and when they could be used to help homeless Londoners. The level of homelessness is a national disgrace and we need to do all we can to help people off the streets.

“That’s why we’re increasing City Hall’s rough sleeping budget to twice what it was when I took office – and making sure the former Clerkenwell fire station building is put to good use, rather than standing there empty after it was shut by the previous Mayor.

“I urge businesses and private developers to follow this example and offer any empty spaces they own so we can put them to use helping London’s homeless too.”

In addition to the Outside Project’s shelter, the community centre will offer a safe, accessible daytime space for the wider LGBTIQ+ community. As well as signposting to support services, the centre will also provide a connection to LGBTIQ+ led community groups, art and wellbeing sessions and sexual health clinics.

Mainstream homelessness services do not always cater for the needs of LGBTIQ+ homeless people or provide a safe space for them, and the historically there has been a lack of LGBTIQ+ appropriate shelter accommodation across London. 

Research by Stonewall Housing and other agencies has shown that LGBTIQ+ people are at greater risk of both rough sleeping and hidden homelessness. Whilst homeless, LGBTIQ+ people are also significantly more likely to experience targeted violence, sexual exploitation, substance misuse, and physical and mental health problems. 

Carla Ecola, founder of The Outside Project, said, “This centre will make an immeasurable difference to our guests who will always be loudly and proudly at the centre of the project. We’re grateful for the support from the Mayor of London, our LGBTIQ+ community and allies across the country. We can’t thank you enough for standing beside us.”

Maxine Holdsworth, Islington Council’s Corporate Director of Housing, said, “We are very pleased to see Clerkenwell Fire Station put to use as a much-needed homeless shelter. It is also particularly welcome to see that the shelter will cater to the needs of LGBTIQ+ people, who face particular challenges in finding a safe space.

“Homelessness is a complex issue, one that the council is working extremely hard to address with the tools that are available to us, and we welcome the addition of this new shelter to help vulnerable people in need.”

Sue Budden, director of corporate services at London Fire Brigade, said, “It’s welcomed that this iconic building is being put to the best possible use and I am delighted to be working with the Mayor of London to make it available now for homelessness services and to help vulnerable Londoners.”