Abused for being homeless: should it be a hate crime?
Please be aware contributions to this blog contain strong language and depictions of racial attacks, homophobia and violence.
Cardboard Citizens is a theatre company working with and for homeless people, and we work to change society’s perceptions of homelessness, and to enable people with lived experience of homelessness to make change. We usually do this by making theatre and telling stories, but when the Law Commission opened their consultation on Hate Crime laws, we were keen to support Crisis to gather views from people with lived experience. Our creative facilitation approaches can open up conversations about difficult and sensitive topics, and from their personal experiences our Members could make their views known.
We ran several virtual workshops for people with lived experience – one with our Members, one for women Members, and one for guests residing in a hotel in Haringey during COVID19. The workshops captured both testimonies and experiences of abuse and violence that were felt as being triggered by being seen as homeless, as well as views around whether homelessness should be categorised as a protected characteristic in law.
All workshop participants had experienced or witnessed abuse or violence by members of the public that could be seen as targeted at homeless people. Disturbingly, several people spoke about incidents with staff in some homelessness settings which they experienced as hate crime. The strong view was that homelessness should be categorised as a protected characteristic, as this would signal to everyone in society, including the police and services that people interact with, that people experiencing homelessness should expect to have their rights and dignity upheld. They also felt that a change in the law could give individuals greater confidence to report such incidents to the police. This view from participants, in addition to previous research showing that people sleeping rough are almost 17 times more likely to be victims of violence and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse compared to the general public , have contributed to Crisis calling for hate crime law to be extended to protect people facing homelessness as put forward by the Law Commission.
People were realistic and felt a change in the law by itself would not solve the issue, given the link to underlying racism, homophobia and other prejudice that was apparent in some of these incidents (including with landlords), despite existing protections, and that wider systems and cultural change is needed.
Some of our Members have briefly shared their experiences and views here, showing how being homeless makes people vulnerable to verbal or physical attack. Whilst we work towards ending homelessness, hearing these horrendous testimonies shows that action needs to be taken to help protect individuals who are already experiencing the trauma of homelessness from further abuse and harm from others.
The right to speak out?
When I was a rough sleeper I got my feet kicked twice whilst I was sleeping A policeman told me to move on with the threat if I did not I would be arrested, I later found out he had no right to say that. I believe both incidents are examples of hate crime. The homeless deserve to be protected by law, make homelessness one of the characteristics now.
Ian Kalman: Cardboard Citizens Member Representative Coordinator
Rough sleepers, and the homeless in general, are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. With life expectancy at forty six for men and forty three for women, their accelerated ageing, now a recognised medical condition, is caused by a multitude of complex health issues not helped by the trauma, both physically and mentally, of violence. With the appalling increase in street violence, the obscene rise in domestic abuse and the decrease in rape convictions, they are in need of further protection like never before. The 2010 Equality Act and 2003 Criminal Justice Act offer this extra protection in making Homelessness a protected characteristic and acts of violence against them, a hate crime. And should have been placed in law a long time ago!
John Watts: Member Crisis Experts by Experience Panel, Cardboard Citizens Theatre Company, Trustee St Mungo's.
My Dark Encounter
Hate Crime is a serious crime. I should have reported my encounter, but I couldn’t report the crime. The police and judicial system should address ‘Hate Crime’ more seriously. It should be treated with utmost care, caution, and sensitivity. My experience was pretty dark, and was frightening too. A hostel in London, it was, where the crime took place. I was suffering from mental illness, and incontinence. I went to the office to ask for nappies/pants. Staff on duty was female, white. She said aggressively, ‘Fuck off, black bastard’. I felt very low and, voiceless. I died psychologically.
I first encountered Homelessness when I was thrown out of my flat because my two flatmates were gay. It was a horrible experience particularly for them. I was later thrown out of a hostel I was in because I was in a disabled room and not considered to be disabled enough even though I had just come out of a wheelchair and was walking with a stick. Therefore I understand how the marginalised in society are treated and this is why the law needs changing.
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