More and more rough sleepers are sheltering on London's buses - especially the number 25

The 25. Image: Au Morandarte via Flickr.

If you work with homeless people, or have ever been homeless yourself, you’ll know that public transport is a cheap way to stay warm for a few hours. Last year, a charity took the step of giving young homeless people bus tickets when they couldn’t give them a bed. 

That’s why it should come as little surprise that as London’s homelessness problem worsens in the midst of shelter closures and budget cuts, rough sleeping on buses seems to be on the rise, too. A leaked report from TfL, seen by journalists Peter Yeung and Alli Shultes, suggests that rough sleeping on buses has shot up - by 121 per cent in four years, to be precise.

The most popular route for rough sleepers seems to be the 25, probably thanks to its route through traffic-jammed central London.  Traffic and distance = more shelter for your £1.40. The 25’s round trip lasts three hours. 

In response, Yeung and Shultes have put together a compelling online art and journalism project, A Journey on the 25, which takes you through the statistics and then works its way along the 25 bus route:

The journalists also spoke to rough sleepers he met on buses. Gaz, 42, a painter, tells them that London’s rents have pushed him to sleep rough despite the fact he is employed: “Sometimes I’m working in some of the wealthiest homes, and they’d never guess that I'm homeless.”

By email, Yeung tells me that the TfL data he’s seen consists of “Driver Incident Reports” (DIRs), which is when a driver flags that he or she needs an “emergency response", in these cases because of the actions of a rough sleeper. He says 95 per cent of these types of reports are “classified as disorder, largely linked to them not wanting to alight at the end of the route.

“Therefore, it's likely that the actual figures for rough sleeping on London's night buses is much higher than [this data shows].” Indeed, publicly available statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government showthat rough sleeping in general in London has increased by 127 per cent since 2010.

According to  his figures, there were 23 DIRs reported on the 25 bus route between 1 November 2015 and 24 January 2016 – which is about one every three days. The next highest were the 29/N29 with 9 reports, and the 5/N15 with seven.

I contacted TfL for confirmation of the leaked figures and was referred to the mayor's office. A spokesperson sent over this statement, which does not deny that the figures are accurate:

"This shocking report is yet another example of the previous Mayor's failure to deal with the housing crisis and, particularly, homelessness in London. Sadiq Khan will be working closely with government, TfL, local authorities and the voluntary sector to tackle the issue of rough sleeping in the capital.” 

Yeung is also collecting more stories and testimonies about rough sleeping through the project- you can submit yours at the bottom of the page here.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.