Karl's story. 'Arresting people for being homeless only made them stay homeless.’
“I was first arrested for the Vagrancy Act in 2008. I just asked someone for 20p so I could use the phone. Two police saw it and arrested me on the spot for begging. I spent the night in the cells and was in court the next morning. They just fined me and sent me straight back to the streets. No more help. Nothing.
Arresting people for being homeless only made them stay homeless. You felt like a criminal, so you end up shutting down and just relying on the homeless community instead. It becomes learned behaviour. I tried my best to stay out of sight. You found little places to hide away like garages, air vents, and parks. Where I live now there’s a park I walk through early in the morning with my dog and they’ve started sniffing at something on the floor, and I realised it’s a person. They tell me they’d been moved out of town. But they’ll only go back. They have to.
You get mental fatigue trying to access any kind of support services. It’s like the whole system is set up to perpetuate homelessness and crime, not to end it. People are also begging just to pay bills, or to get a room in hostel, or get enough for a permanent address for when that hostel moves them on. At the end of the day if someone’s begging on the street, that person needs help, not being arrested for it.
When Crisis came to the hostel I was staying in three years ago, I was in such a mentally bad place that it took six months for me to talk with their support worker, but I was so sick of everything by then that I gradually opened up. They got me in touch with a mental health worker, then help with housing and benefits, even my English and maths. I was on a countdown to go back to jail or go back to the streets, but they started giving me the tools to help myself. If it wasn’t for Crisis I wouldn’t have known about those services. They invested in me and got a human being at the end of it.
I try to explain to people the horrors of the living on the streets, and how much difference it makes for someone to treat you like a human being. The best thing I can remember is silly little things like people saying good morning and asking if I was ok. It would be brilliant if the Vagrancy Act could be repealed. That would help turn public opinion back to helping homeless people instead of punishing them. At the end of the day the police only do as they’re told. People always says it’s complex to end homelessness. But it’s not. It’s only complex for homeless people living on the streets. The solutions to solve it are already there.”
The Vagrancy Act does nothing to resolve the root causes of homelessness. In fact, it’s more likely to push someone further from the vital services that help them to move away from the streets. The Government is soon to review the Vagrancy Act, but hasn’t said that they will repeal it – yet. Until they do, vulnerable people will continue to be pushed even further from support. That’s why we’re calling on the UK Government to #ScraptheAct once and for all. Sign up to the campaign here and find out how you can be involved.
By sharing stories we can change attitudes and build a movement for permanent, positive change. Stand against homelessness and help us end it for good.