Vagrancy Act repeal: 'It gives people a chance’
My name is Karl. I’m from Liverpool and I’ve been homeless in the past. I’ve also been arrested under the Vagrancy Act.
I’m writing this at an historic moment. The UK Government has voted to repeal the Vagrancy Act, and it’s about the best decision they could have made. It will help people right across the country. It will save lives.
I wasn’t really aware of the Vagrancy Act, if I’m honest, until they arrested me for begging. I was up in court in the morning, but I couldn’t pay the fine, so I ended up in Walton jail. They were clearing people off the street because there was a festival on, and there were a lot of people who were homeless. I saw people with such shock and horror on their faces, because they’d never been in the criminal justice system before, never. It's one of the most terrifying experiences of your life.
It’s something that takes a chunk out of your life, and it’s something you’ll never get back again. You shut down when you’re homeless, you forget how to engage with people that are different from you because you don’t trust, you’re scared to trust people again.
I was in a hostel for about 16 months, having breakdowns, lost my head a little bit. I was introduced to someone from Crisis, and they brought me up to a level of education so I could understand what was in front of me. I ended up with a home, it was a long and hard process, but it was one that saved my life.
I’d seen the campaigns that Crisis were involved in. Then I got to know a few people and I was asked to go on different talks to different places. But the one that stands out the most is the one where I spoke in Parliament. It made me feel like I was doing something, and you feel so ineffective at times when you see the destruction around you.
It was a breath-taking experience, speaking in the House of Commons – if a little bit overwhelming – but I really enjoyed it. I got to meet some great people, a lot of campaigners, MPs, people from different charities, different organisations, and people who it had affected. It was from that moment on that I thought I needed to do more to stop it happening to people.
I’m pretty content right now. I have a home, I volunteer for different charities, I’m accessing services where I live, I talk to different people, I engage with different organisations, and I’m learning all the time about how to live, how to have a life, how to appreciate things that people don’t have when you’re living in hostels or on the streets.
All that’s behind me, but you can’t forget where you were. I try my best to help people that are in the position I was in because I know the nightmare they’re going through.
The Vagrancy Act being repealed, it gives people a chance to get the services that they need or get the help that they need. It stops them being criminalised, so that when they do finally get back to life they’ll have the chance of a job. Because a criminal record – it doesn’t matter what it’s for - follows you through life and stops you progressing.
Ending homelessness, it would be brilliant, it really would. If people are willing to look at laws and policies and start changing things for the better, you can end homelessness - that’s the beauty of it.
I want to say thank you to everyone who’s been involved in the campaign to end the Vagrancy Act. From the heart, I love every one of you, and I thank you for what you have done and what you have achieved. From me and everyone else who’s ever been homeless, thank you.
You can hear more from Karl by watching the video below.
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