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.