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Open letter to Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Government proposals to criminalise the use of tents by people sleeping rough

Dear Home Secretary,

cc Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

As organisations supporting people experiencing homelessness, we are writing to ask you to urgently reconsider proposals to criminalise the use of tents by people sleeping rough as a replacement for the draconian 1824 Vagrancy Act.

Working on the frontline of the homelessness crisis, we know all too well the risk to life these punitive laws present, and how they only serve to push people further into destitution. We are calling for an urgent reversal of this decision if the government wants to prevent people from dying on our streets, exposed to the cold and all the hardship that rough sleeping entails.

Sleeping on the street is not a lifestyle choice. Laying blame with people forced to sleep rough will only push people further away from help into poverty, putting them at risk of exploitation. At the extreme end we will see an increase in deaths and fatalities which are totally preventable.

People sleeping rough frequently experience violence and abuse. The impact on their physical and mental health is significant. The average age of death for people experiencing homelessness is just 45 for men and 43 for women. This is not a life people choose.

There is much more that can be done to tackle rough sleeping, and ending it for good is completely achievable. We urge you to focus on housing solutions to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, investing in interventions like Housing First which helps people into safe, secure housing combined with wraparound services so people can remain off the streets. These are models that are proven to work.

In the short-term, increasing housing benefit at the Autumn Statement so people can afford their rent must also be part of the solution. Alongside this, there needs to be a reversal of the recent changes to asylum-seeker policy which are resulting in people granted settled status being evicted within a matter of days, pushing them into rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness.

We strongly urge you to reconsider these measures, which will result in harm to thousands of people who have no option but to sleep in a tent, or on the streets, as they have no home of their own. Removing the only protection many people depend on and endangering lives cannot be the answer. We remain willing to work with you and the government on genuine solutions to end rough sleeping for good, but these changes gravely undermine any efforts to do so.

Kind regards,

Mick Clarke, CEO, The Passage

Matt Downie MBE, CEO, Crisis

Gavin Smart, CEO, Chartered Institute of Housing

Seyi Obakin OBE, CEO, Centrepoint

Katie Dalton, Director, Cymorth Cymru

Jean Templeton, CEO, St Basils and Chair of the WMCA Homelessness Taskforce

Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link

Kate Henderson, CEO, National Housing Federation

Alex Bax, CEO, Pathway

Pam Orchard, CEO, The Connection at St Martin in the Fields

Emma Haddad, CEO, St Mungo’s

Michael Chandler, CEO, Groundswell

Bridget Young, Director, NACCOM

Amanda Dubarry, CEO, Your Place

Enver Solomon, CEO, The Refugee Council

I’d like to help those experiencing or at risk of homelessness

The Passage strongly condemns the new enforcement powers outlined by the Home Secretary, regarding street homelessness.

We believe that everyone deserves a place to call home; that no one should ever have to sleep on the streets, or indeed in a tent on the streets. This policy risks demonising the poorest in our society without even beginning to address the real issues facing our country regarding poverty and homelessness. In the long term, building more social housing and seeking to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place must be the priority, yet the simple fact is that the government could be taking immediate steps to alleviate the homelessness crisis, such as unfreezing Local Housing Allowance and creating more emergency accommodation.

The Home Secretary states that homelessness is a “lifestyle choice” and that “there are options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough, and the government is working with local authorities to strengthen wrap around support”. However, the stark reality on the ground is that many local authorities are no longer able to provide accommodation for those most in need; some have even been forced to either give, or direct people towards tents as they are simply unable to offer any other housing solution. The people that we work with have certainly not chosen to be on the streets; circumstances have put them there.

When the Home Secretary speaks of wanting to stop crime blighting our communities, this is of course something with which we all agree. However, these measures will do nothing to address the causes of crime and it is important to realise that those on the streets are far more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. Instead, to focus on addressing issues such as drug dealing and modern slavery – which puts many who are street homeless at risk – would be significantly more effective than criminalising homelessness.

All of this comes days after the highest monthly increase ever recorded for those sleeping out on our streets since records began. Instead of taking the opportunity to repeal the archaic Vagrancy Act and address the anti-social behaviour that those on the streets and in the wider community are victims of, we are presented with a set of measures designed for show with no substance to tackle the real cause of the scandal – that being far too many people now experiencing street homelessness.

There are so many good people and organisations – charities, voluntary and community groups, companies, and local and central government civil servants – who are working tirelessly to address the scandal of street homelessness in our country and we’re very proud to work with and alongside such committed partners. During the Covid-19 pandemic, street homelessness was treated as a public health emergency, which led to society coming together to implement the Everyone In initiative. Instead of headline grabbing politics, we need policies that address the core issues; we urgently need to re-frame street homelessness and adopt measures that will prevent it from happening in the first place.

The latest official figures show that as winter approaches, the number of people who are street homeless is going to be at a level not seen for over two decades. Every single one is a human being and a personal tragedy. With the impact of the cost of living crisis, we are seeing more people at risk of street homelessness who would never have thought they would be in that position.

This winter, we are facing an emergency on our streets. We desperately need the right policies in place to address the scandal that is street homelessness. Frontline staff at The Passage, in collaboration with our partners, work tirelessly to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We will not stop until we have ended the national shame that is street homelessness in 21st century Britain and instead of criminalising homelessness, we strongly encourage the government to work with us, and countless others, to bring about lasting change. As evidenced during the pandemic, there is so much more that can be achieved by working together to end street homelessness.

We therefore urge the government to once again take this collaborative approach and work with us to end homelessness for good.

Mick Clarke, Chief Executive

Today, digital equity is more important than ever. In a society that is heavily centered around technology, with most services moving online, many people face a disadvantage if they do not have access to the resources, or skills needed.

Some people within our society are more likely to be digitally excluded than others, and this includes those who experience homelessness, do not have a job, or are on low income.

That’s why, The Passage established a Digital Inclusion Programme in 2022, which has already helped a number of people to access and utilise technology, to improve their communication and quality of life.

Hand on keyboard of laptop, typing

What are the barriers that someone may face to digital inclusion?

There are a variety of barriers that can prevent someone from being digitally included. For example:

  • If someone does not have access to a mobile phone/tablet/computer or the internet
  • If someone does not know how to navigate the internet, or the skills to use certain online services/platforms
  • If someone lacks confidence in using technology, or isn’t aware of what is available to them online

The Passage’s Digital Inclusion Programme

Our Education and Employment Team developed a Digital Inclusion Programme, in which they provide 1-2-1 training.

The aim of this programme is to reduce the digital divide that those who experience or become at risk of homelessness face.

This training is designed to equip The Passage’s service users with the skills necessary to be able to access and use essential services online, independently.

Since its development, the programme has helped our service users to:

  • Access their Universal Credit (UC) journal and communicate with their UC coach
  • Research various topics online, such as job opportunities
  • Apply for jobs, and navigate their way to interviews
  • Stay up-to-date with the news
  • Download and use different applications
  • Use social media to reconnect and contact their friends and family
  • Communicate with their Key Worker at The Passage, meaning they are always able to receive our support.

The Passage also runs computer access sessions, alongside a digital drop-in twice a month facilitated by volunteers. These sessions offer visitors regular online access and a supportive environment for digital assistance.

In the future, we hope to continue building on this programme, focusing on new topics such as Canva training to continue improving these skills.

Thank you

To support the programme, Landsec, SocialBox, and Techary have kindly donated laptops which can also be given to service users, allowing them to practice and maintain the skills they’ve learned to continue to stay digitally connected.

We would also like to say a huge thank you to the AT&T team for sponsoring this programme and working to close the digital divide.

Want to get involved? Get in touch today!

In the latest CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) report, outreach teams recorded 4,068 individuals sleeping rough in the capital between July to September 2023. The number of new rough sleepers in London accounted for over 50% of this total, with 2,086 people found to be sleeping rough for the very first time.

This report is deeply concerning; particularly the fact that we have record numbers of people sleeping out on our streets for the first time and an increase in the number of younger people experiencing street homelessness: 33% were between 18 – 35 years old.

“With winter approaching, this data is immensely concerning and we fear that there is a risk of rough sleeping reaching levels not seen for over two decades. In addition to emergency measures that need to be put in place over the winter period to help people move safely off the streets, there must also be measures focused on prevention, for example, the unfreezing of Local Housing Allowance Rates, access to genuine social housing and initiatives such as The Passage’s successful No Night Out scheme.

There is no reason why anyone in the UK should ever have to sleep out and it’s nothing short of a scandal that we are now seeing the number of people rough sleeping at an all-time high. During the Covid-19 pandemic, street homelessness was treated as a public health emergency, which led to society coming together to implement the Everyone In initiative.

Every day so many people in London and across the UK are working tirelessly to manage this crisis, but we can’t continue with the status quo. We urgently need to re-frame street homelessness and adopt measures that will prevent it from happening in the first place.”

– Mick Clarke, Chief Executive

Read the full Q2 CHAIN report

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