The British homeless, victims or offenders

Recently, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom (House of Commons), in the framework of its research activities, published Rough Sleepers and antisocial behaviour. The document offers us a brief analysis of the uses and abuses of the regulation that leads to a criminalisation and victimisation of the homeless community.

The brief study presents the dilemma of particularly vulnerable groups and with extremely high victimisation rates,[1]leading the authorities to address these with the use of a law that victimises and criminalises them. At the same time, it stresses the contradiction between the wish to address the root of the problem underlying the conflict[2] and the biased use of the regulations related to anti-social behaviour in order to find a quick solution to the problem of people in the street.

These abuses are reflected in two areas of action. Firstly, regarding the legal tools available and, afterwards, other dissuasive measures without any legal framework to refer to.

Among the legal tools available to the authorities, there is civil law and those of a penal nature. The latter are stated in section 3a, of the Vagrancy Act 1824, in accordance with which begging can be sanctioned. Reports registered based on this law have increased over recent years, increasing from 1,500 in 2006-2007 to over 2,300 in 2015-2016. Outside the field of criminal law, there are tools emanating from the ’Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, among which, Civil injunctions, Criminal Behaviour Orders(CBO),Community Protections Notices(CPN),Dispersal Powers and Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). They all involve aspects of prohibition of an action or a possible action, and injunction aspects to prevent recurrence. Its vocation is to sanction, and is aimed at clearly anti-social activities and those that could negatively affect cohabitation.[3]

Furthermore, there are several less formal dissuasive actions, which are intended to inhibit or inconvenience. Among others, there is the so-called defensive architecture, where urban furniture is used, like segregated or curvilinear benches, to make it difficult for the homeless to stay on them. Other less evident measures are the wetting down, meaning cleaning with water and cleaning products areas that are susceptible to being occupied. Also, noise pollution or simply giving indications to leave the area. In this regard, initiatives are more varied and more used than formal methods to denounce offences.[4]

Finally, the report stresses that, although there is a wide range of measures, they have been shown to have little effect. Among the detrimental effects, the moving of activities in the territory, as well as a move towards illegal activities, with a development from begging to committing minor crimes involving theft or robbery.[4]

[1]The report shows us that the homeless are up to seventeen times more likely to be victims of violence than the average person.

[2]The volunteerism sector celebrated the fact that the Home Office updated the guide for the use of regulations in the field of anti-social behaviour last September. At the same time, the British government has also activated several mechanisms to prevent people becoming indigents or to help them recover. Moreover, the Homelessness Reduction Act of 2018(in spite of heavy criticism) and, also, more public investment in systems like Housing First. Over a thousand million pounds (about 1,130,000 Euros) are expected to be invested in this area in 2020.

[3]A study carried out by the British entity Crisis indicates that 36% of municipalities are using legal and dissuasive powers to deal with the homeless.

[4]73% of homeless persons have been the object of a sanction or persuasive measures. Of these, 70% were informal.

[5] Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Theimpact of enforcement on streetusers in England. 2007

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