What are the mysterious new blue plaques appearing on park benches and doorways in London?

Andreas lost his job and his home and was forced onto the streets until being helped by APAP. Credit: APAP

By ITV News Digital Producer Suzanne Elliott

Behind every blue plaque in the capital, there's a story.

But where they usually mark a former residence of a well-known person, new plaques springing up in doorways and on park benches in London celebrate those who know what it is like to not have a home at all.

Charity All People All Places (APAP) launched its homeless plaque campaign to celebrate people who had overcome homelessness and "tell the real and positive stories of just some of the people we’ve been able to help".

"We were really keen to focus on the positives," APAP chief executive George Dunstall said.

He said: "There are obviously some really challenging experiences that people that we've worked with have gone through. But for many people, we have been able to support them through and beyond that crisis.

"And I think that should be celebrated rather than perhaps some of the more obvious sort of tropes about homelessness."

The blue plaque campaign hopes to highlight the stories of people who are so often overlooked at a time when the cost of living crisis is having a huge impact on people across the UK, and putting many into vulnerable position.

The blue plaques are in places such as park benches, along a canal, under a bridge and other places where you may find people rough sleeping.

Some of them are symbolic, while others mark a spot where a person has once made a temporary home.

"More broadly, we wanted to shine a light on the fact homelessness is on the rise again, we're in the middle of the cost of living crisis," Mr Dunstall told ITV News.

"About a third of our clients that come to our day centre are rough sleepers, who are going to rough sleep tonight or have rough slept the night before, but two-thirds are coming to us because they are vulnerably housed and at risk of homelessness because of spiralling rents and low wage and unemployment."

A plaque marking where Jakob, who is being helped by APAP, once slept. Credit: APAP

The charity hopes the plaques will "inspire even more support for the millions across the UK facing homelessness this winter".

The plaques all represent clients the charity has worked with in the past 12 months. Their names have been changed, but their stories are only too real.

Among those celebrated is Andreas who lost his job, his house, and all his paperwork in 2021, which left him unable to prove his UK status. This locked him out of vital services and, as a consequence, he ended up sleeping rough.

With help from the charity, he has since found a more permanent home and a job, his former sleeping place now marked with a blue plaque.

Jakob, who was left homeless after being evicted by his landlord, suffered a stroke while sleeping rough.

Suffering from memory loss and limited mobility, Jakob spent several nights sleeping on a park bench during a particularly cold spell.

Kira slept rough while in and out of hospital. Credit: All People All Places

APAP is helping Jakob find a permanent roof over his head but his former cold and uncomfortable bed tells his story.

Kira lost her partner and her home. She ended up homeless - sleeping on friends’ sofas before being asked to leave. She slept rough in between spells in hospital. But, thanks to support from APAP, she has now moved into her own home.

Latest figures show the number of people sleeping rough in London has jumped 24% in the past year, with more than 3,600 sleeping on the capital’s streets between June and September.

The capital’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol was activated for the first time this winter this week to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers as temperatures fell below zero.

APAP offers a day centre that gives housing advice, support and advocacy for rough sleepers and those at risk of homelessness in Enfield and Haringey.

As well as raising money, the charity hopes to raise awareness through the campaign and letting people know they are on their doorstep.

"It's important to highlight to people that homelessness is not just the people that you see on the street," Mr Dunstall said.

"It's the people who don't know where they're going to sleep tonight, who are sleeping on someone's floor, moving between various friends and putting strain on relationships because they don't have anywhere else to go."

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