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True plight of squatters exposed by research

Squatters have been revealed as some of the most vulnerable of all homeless people by research published as the Government consultation into criminalisation of squatting comes to an end.

The research reveals that squatters are more likely than other homeless people to suffer from a range of disadvantages, from mental and physical ill health to learning disabilities to drug and alcohol dependency.

Squatting: a homelessness issue was undertaken by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR), Sheffield Hallam University on behalf of homelessness charity Crisis. The report draws on analysis from a range of previous research into homelessness and squatting.

The research concludes that criminalising squatters will criminalise a very vulnerable group of people and that far from being a criminal justice issue, squatting should be treated as a welfare and housing issue.

The research comes after a campaign from Crisis against criminalisation of squatting, and a letter, backed by Crisis, that has provoked a strong exchange of views between the government and housing legal experts. Crisis has also produced the Daily Rant to highlight misconceptions around squatting.

Key findings from the research:

  • Squatting was found to be a common amongst homeless people. 40% of those surveyed had squatted at some point, with 6% on any one night.
  • Homeless people squat out of necessity, often as the only alternative to sleeping on the street.
  • Most homeless people who squat (78%) have approached their local council for help and although they were recognised as homeless they were not entitled to housing as they did not meet the strict set criteria to be considered a priority. The assistance they were offered was either non-existent of little use
  • People with limited access to welfare benefits and single people who are not a priority for social housing are much more likely to end up squatting as the only way to resolve their homelessness
  • Every homeless squatter surveyed occupied empty, abandoned buildings including flats awaiting demolition, disused warehouses or empty schools. Squatters preferred properties where they were least likely to attract attention.
  • The vast majority of squats were in poor condition, with broken windows, lack of water, heating and electricity, damp and vermin all common.

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