Kids Company "clients", staffers, and locals gathered at the charity's Camberwell centre on Wednesday as the organisation prepared to cease operations.
CEO Camila Batmanghelidjh announced earlier in the day that the charity would be shut down completely. News of the closure comes after it was revealed to BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight that the government is in the process of clawing back a contentious grant of £3 million that the troubled charity was paid following an initial disbursement of £4.265 million in April.
Earlier in the week, BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight reported that the charity is being investigated for potentially criminal offences by the complex case team of the Metropolitan police's sexual offences, exploitation, and child abuse command.
The charity was founded in 1996 to provide care to vulnerable and poor "clients" – ranging from toddlers to 24-year-olds – by offering "health, housing, emotional wellbeing, mental health, arts, sports, youth justice, education and employment" support, according to the mission statement on its website. The charity received millions of pounds of central government funding along with private donations, including ones from celebrities such as J.K. Rowling.
One woman led the crowd around her in a chant of "long live Camila".
"David Cameron, you should be ashamed of yourself," she shouted, referring to the government's effort to claw back the funding.
A woman who said she had been helped by the charity for over 15 years tearfully told BuzzFeed News: "I don’t know what I’m going to do, how I’m going to live without Kids Company."
"When I was 15 and pregnant with my daughter they helped me, they supported me," she said. "I attempted suicide and they were there again, literally I could have died without their support. My key worker is everything. I speak to them every day. They're a huge part of my life."
She expressed concern for a future generation of children who she fears will now have nowhere to go if they find themselves in a similar situation. "Nobody cares about the younger generation, but Kids Company was their safety net. There's nowhere in south London they can go now. You can't replace it."
Others echoed her sentiment that the Camberwell centre was a vital part of the community for young women. Without it, "There are mums who will turn to prostitution," one woman said. "There are mums who will kill themselves."
Many said that Kids Company was a place that helped provide food and shelter to children of low-income working parents who struggled to afford childcare.
"In the summer holidays parents could take their kids there and go to work knowing they're safe and fed," another woman said. "Some children don't know what they're going to eat, but they know they can get a meal here. After school they eat and do their homework and they're safe."
A single father despaired over what he would now do with his three children – aged 5, 7, and 9 – while he went to work.
"I will have to leave my job to look after my children," he said. "I can't work because I will have nowhere to leave them, I can't afford childcare. I will have to sign on."
Describing what he felt was a greater concern for money than for people, he said: "We put this government in power and they do nothing to help people. Kids Company really help people."
"If David Cameron cared for people and cared for kids he wouldn't have let this happen," another woman said. "This charity took a lot of the burden off social services."
Another woman said the closure was an example of "the wickedness of this government".
In a statement following the confirmation of the closure of Kids Company centres, a government spokesperson said: "The welfare of these young people continues to be our primary concern and we are now working closely with local authorities to make sure they have access to the services they require."
Tearful staff and key workers at the Camberwell centre exited en masse to a round of applause from the gathered crowd.
Staff comforted each other and children as the gates were closed.
"It's such a waste – it's people's lives," one woman said.
The lingering crowd formed a group hug in the street outside the centre.
A crying woman hugged a young girl and said: "It shouldn't have to end like this. We don't want to it end like this."