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Crisis reveals scale of violence and abuse against rough sleepers as charity opens its doors for Christmas

People sleeping on the street are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse in the past year compared to the general public, according to new research from Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.

The findings come as Crisis opens its Christmas centres to an expected 4,000 homeless guests in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Newcastle and Coventry (see notes for media opportunities), offering a safe, warm welcome over the Christmas period.

Drawing on a survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers in England and Wales, the report shows how almost 8 out of 10 have suffered some sort of violence, abuse or anti-social behaviour in the past year – often committed by a member of the public – while nearly 7 in 10 (66%) report that life on the street is getting worse.

The report shows that for current or recent rough sleepers:

  • More than 1 in 3 have been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless (35%)
  • More than 1 in 3 have had things thrown at them whilst homeless (34%)
  • Almost 1 in 10 have been urinated on whilst homeless (9%)
  • More than 1 in 20 have been the victim of a sexual assault whilst homeless (7%)
  • Almost half have been intimidated or threatened with violence whilst homeless (48%)
  • Almost 6 in 10 have had been verbally abused or harassed whilst homeless (59%)

The report also provides first-hand accounts showing how these experiences take a serious toll on people’s mental wellbeing and sense of isolation, leading some to question their self-worth and making it even harder for them to escape the streets (see quotes below).

The charity is also calling for action to prevent people from having to face the horrors of the street in the first place. The Homelessness Reduction Bill now going through parliament would help to make sure homeless people can get support at an early stage, ideally before they lose their home.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “For anyone sleeping on the street, life can be a struggle just to survive. As our research shows, rough sleepers are far more likely to be victims of crime, including violent assault, abuse and intimidation, compared to the general public. This is a horrifying state of affairs and shows why we need to prevent people ending up in this situation in the first place.

“Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for homeless people. While others are enjoying the comfort of family and friends, homeless people face a daily struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold. That’s what makes our work at Christmas so important. Every year, Crisis opens its doors to thousands of homeless people, offering a safe, warm welcome with food and companionship, as well as access to vital services.

“Yet we also need to make sure people can get help all year round, ideally before they become homeless in the first place. The Homelessness Reduction Bill currently making its way through parliament aims to make sure people facing homelessness can get support when they need it, and we urge the public to help by calling on their MP to back this crucial bill.”

The charity’s Christmas centres are run by an army of more than 10,000 volunteers. As well as warmth, companionship and three hot meals a day, guests receive healthcare and specialist advice on housing, work and benefits and are encouraged to take up the life-changing opportunities on offer at Crisis centres across the country during the year ahead.

Jon Sparkes added: “None of this work would be possible without the generosity and compassion of thousands of individuals, organisations and companies, who give their time, funds and goods to make Christmas happen for some of society’s most vulnerable people.”

Additional findings:

Crisis spoke to 458 people in 21 locations across England and Wales. The findings show:

  • Almost 8 out of 10 have suffered some sort of crime or anti-social behaviour whilst homeless (79%), while 77% have suffered it in the past year.
  • More than half have had things stolen from them whilst on the street (54%)
  • Almost 1 in 4 have had their belongings deliberately damaged or vandalised whilst homeless (23%)
  • In more than half of cases of people being hit or kicked, a member of the public unknown to the respondent was responsible (55%)
  • Over half said they had not reported the last crime or anti-social incident to the police, often because they thought the police wouldn’t do anything about it (53%)

APPENDIX 1 QUOTES

“It was some guy. He said, ‘Are you homeless?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he just kicked me in the head. I was sat on the floor reading my book.” Simon

“Gangs of young kids, you know about five or six of them that come around on the night time, 2.00am in the morning. And anyone sleeping in the shop door was done. They used to brick them or worse still. You know a couple of lads that were sleeping on the streets with me got knifed while they were asleep. Gary

“I was beaten up once, that was a couple of weeks ago, by the same people I think that burnt my bedding up. I was in my sleeping bag because it comes around up over the shoulders, do you know what I mean? And three of them, and I was sleeping, they came over and started jumping on me, kicking me like.” Jeremy

“I’ve had young lads coming up to me like giving me loads of sh*t, you know, call me a dirty scumbag and scrounger and all that. But they haven’t got a clue, you know?” Dan

"We don't know if we're going to get burnt alive or anything, it's too dangerous out there. I'm glad that we have got each other out there because I don't know how people cope on their own, I really don't. Phillip

"It depends which area, sometimes, but if you are not alert, if you go to sleep, some areas... there is some people they are not good, you can get killed easily. You can get stabbed sometimes, you know? Benji

"I sleep in the buses, mainly because I can’t see sleeping in the street as…Safe, it’s not safe because I have been harassed, I have been kicked … Benji

“You're always looking over your shoulder, you can't trust anyone.” Philip 

ENDS

For further information call 020 7426 3853 or email thomas.phillips@crisis.org.uk. For out of hours media enquiries please call: 07973 372587

Notes to editors

Broadcasters, journalists and photographers are invited to meet homeless guests, volunteers and Crisis spokespeople at the opening of Crisis at Christmas 2016, from early on FRIDAY 23 DECEMBER.

Over the summer of 2016 458 people who were either currently sleeping rough or had been in the last 12 months completed a face-to-face survey. Surveys were completed across 21 localities in England and Wales at a variety of homelessness services and organisations. The sample surveyed closely represented the demographic nature of the wider rough sleeping population.

The 2015-16 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 3.6 per cent of the population of England and Wales experienced ‘being intimidated, verbally abused or harassed’ within the last 12 months. In the survey of people who had slept rough in the last 12 months, 55.5% had experienced ‘being verbally abused or harassed’. This is 15 times higher than the proportion of the general population of England and Wales who had experienced verbal abuse or harassment.

With people who have experienced being deliberately hit or kicked or had any other force of violence the 2015-16 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 1.8 per cent of the population of England and Wales experienced ‘violence’ within the last 12 months. In the survey of people who had slept rough in the last 12 months, 30.3 per cent had been ‘deliberately hit or kicked or had any other force of violence’ against them. This is 16.8 times higher than the proportion of the general population of England and Wales who had experienced violence in the last 12 months.

Crisis at Christmas

Crisis at Christmas is a lifeline for thousands of homeless people across the UK, offering support, companionship and vital services over the festive period.

Crisis at Christmas provides immediate help for homeless people at a critical time - one in four homeless people spends Christmas alone - but our work does not end there. We encourage guests to take up the life-changing opportunities on offer all year round at our centres across the country.

This is only made possible through the generosity of thousands of volunteers, individuals, community organisations and companies who donate money, time, skills, goods and services.