Chris's story. 'They were just moved on. It never solved the problem.'
“I worked ten years as a police officer in London, but I retired in 1999 after an accident, now I’m three quarters of the way through training as a barrister.
When I was a police officer I liked helping people. We had more discretion back then to support people on the street. Now people are far too quick to criminalise them. We did use the Vagrancy Act back then, but they do it much more now. It seems to have become the default position, but it’s just upholding an image. Ahead of the royal wedding for example, and I don’t like the law being used to lie and cover up things.
I personally never found it comfortable arresting someone for rough sleeping or begging. The only good thing that came out of it was them being able to have a cup of tea and biscuit in the station and use the toilet. Just to help them get warm for a short while, but then they went straight back to the street. The real reasons for homelessness, like relationship breakdown, poverty and job losses are not solved by criminalising people. They were just moved on. It never solved the problem.
The Vagrancy Act itself was just a convenient piece of legislation to remove the poor from anywhere they didn’t want homeless people around, like shops, train stations and theatres. The analogy we used to use was like getting rid of pigeons in Trafalgar square. It’s just something we don’t want to see. And places like Westminster don’t like the bad publicity they get from having people sleeping in the streets. If anyone tells you different it’s not true.
There’s a social issue about why you’re removing someone from the street. There needs to be statutory provision for homes, but there’s a huge problem with social housing the government don’t want to admit to, so they victimise homeless people and pretend they chose to be there instead. The Vagrancy Act is completely out of date for the 21stcentury. Criminalising homeless people doesn’t solve homelessness. We should be criminalising failing to support homeless people.”
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.
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