Councils across England and Wales are reportedly targeting homeless rough sleepers with legal measures normally reserved for genuine antisocial behaviour, according to new research by the homeless charity Crisis.
A survey of local authorities found one in three (36 per cent) are actively targeting rough sleepers with strict enforcement measures. Common measures included Criminal Behaviour Orders (45 per cent), Dispersal Orders (35 per cent), Public Space Protection Orders (17 per cent) and actions under the Vagrancy Act (27 per cent).
Another survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers found that 73 per cent had been threatened by enforcement measures, with 1 in 10 subjected to actual legal penalties. More than half (56 per cent) had been asked to move on by a police officer or enforcement agent in the last twelve months.
More than 9 in 10 councils (94 per cent) said advice and support was offered alongside enforcement, but this was generally only legal advice about the measures being taken against them.
Crisis says the enforcement measures alone will not help homeless people get off the streets and should never be used without also offering meaningful support and accommodation.
More than 8 in 10 current and former rough sleepers who responded to the survey said they hadn’t received any support. More than half (56 percent) said the traumatic experience had left them feeling ashamed of their circumstances, while 30 per cent said it had made it more difficult to find accommodation.
Crisis is calling on councils to ensure enforcement measures are only used for genuine antisocial behaviour, and has urged the government to issue councils with statutory guidance on the use of antisocial behaviour powers.
Police and local agencies should also be properly trained to advise rough sleepers on available advice and support services, say Crisis.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “We understand that councils and the police have to strike a balance between the concerns of local residents and the needs of rough sleepers, and where there’s genuine antisocial activity, it’s only right that they should intervene. Yet people shouldn’t be targeted simply for sleeping on the street.
“In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, and rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general public. They deserve better than to be treated as criminals simply because they have nowhere to live.
“There is a time and place for enforcement, and as a last resort it can play an important role in helping people off the street.
“However, if it is used against a rough sleeper for genuinely antisocial behaviour then councils and police must make sure it is accompanied by accessible, meaningful support and accommodation to help that person escape the streets and rebuild their life.
“Without that support, they risk further marginalising rough sleepers and making it even harder for them to get help.”
Welfare Weekly recently reported that a Labour-run council has been accused of criminalising homelessness, after it proposed banning homeless people from “placing themselves in a position to beg or solicit money”.
Campaign group Liberty wrote to council, urging them to abandon the proposals and accusing the local authority of a “misuse of power”.