Our Homelessness Hustings – A Joyful, Messy, Inclusive Triumph

hustings event
The Connection at St Martin’s is based in the St James ward – part of the Cities of London and Westminster constituency.

This is where there is the highest concentration of rough sleeping in the whole of the UK. Could there be a more fitting place to hold a hustings with a focus on homelessness?

So this is exactly what we decided to do. We invited all the candidates who are running to be our MP and were delighted that eight of them came to talk to an audience of local constituents – including those currently experiencing homelessness – about how they would tackle the homelessness crisis if elected.

I have worked here for seven years and prior to that, I was at the homelessness charity Providence Row, based at the edge of the City of London. My experience tells me that the Cites of London and Westminster constituency not only sees more than its fair share of rough sleeping, but that many find that current service provision simply doesn’t meet their needs. This reality and its consequences will be at the top of the inbox of our next MP in the constituency, whoever they are.

Why did we need a Hustings in Westminster?

The constituency also sees rough sleepers who have travelled into the area from other parts of London, the rest of the UK, Europe and the world. Over half of people sleeping rough in this constituency aren’t originally from the UK although most do have a legal right to be here.

The constituency has huge wealth diversity with some of the richest as well as some of the poorest parts of London. Many people in the Cities of London and in Westminster are at risk of homelessness and others are in temporary accommodation. Westminster Council has over 5000 people on its housing waiting list and has overspent on temporary accommodation by millions this year alone in order to meet its legal duties.

There is a huge diversity of businesses from hospitality, entertainment, tourism, media and finance. The local police service is regularly deployed to keep us safe at national events such as the funeral of the queen and the coronation. The police are also regularly diverted to demonstrations and political action due to our proximity to parliament. This leaves less capacity for tackling more mundane day to day crime in the constituency.

We organised this hustings because we wanted people who experience homelessness to have their opportunity to see the candidates who could represent them in parliament. We also wanted people who care about overcoming homelessness to assess the policies being put forward.

From the very start, the hustings represented the very real experience of working at The Connection. One person who is sleeping rough was determined to ensure that those accessing a volunteer led food service outside could come in. We all agreed to suspend proceedings whilst most of the candidates went out to invite people in.

How did the hustings go?

The discussion was lively, covering housing, voter ID, the asylum system as well as homelessness responses. The candidates did well to keep up with the pace of the event and it was expertly chaired by Paul McNamee – editor of The Big Issue. One member of the audience raised the concept of a homelessness commissioner to review service failures and poor joint working. This was considered an interesting idea by everyone and is something we will be looking at further at The Connection.

Something I hadn’t expected was that candidates were really pleased to be asked to the hustings. Those from the smaller parties and independents are rarely included in the invitation list. This gave an additional dimension to the inclusiveness of the event. It reminded me that although I may feel daunted sometimes at the task of capturing the attention of elected officials and policy makers, ultimately we are all people at the end of the day.

What I really appreciated was the very genuine concern and interest shown by all candidates about homelessness in the constituency. They took the time not just to come to the event, but were also considered and considerate, finding areas of agreement and disagreement over policies and approaches but always with the needs of the community we serve in mind.


Whichever candidate is elected on Thursday, we are grateful to everyone who attended and we are proud to have played our part in the democratic process. We will be inviting all of the candidates back to The Connection once the election is over and regardless of the result. This is just the beginning of what we hope is a long and fruitful relationship with all of them.

You can view clips of our homelessness hustings here:

Thank you to Two Degrees Studios for recording and editing this video on our behalf.

-Pam Orchard, CEO of The Connection at St. Martin’s