Last month’s reports show rough sleeping in England is up by 15% this year - an increase for the seventh consecutive year in a row. It shows how not enough is being done to help homeless people. The heartbreaking numbers released by the BBC are in the thousands, with charities like Shelter warning the numbers could be even higher. Nevertheless whatever the total, even a single person being forced to sleep on our streets is one too many!
I started my petition on Change.org to stop the homeless being cleared out from Windsor before the Royal wedding after Councillor Dudley’s remarks to do so. I instinctively knew his comments were in no way representative of the public’s feelings towards homeless people. His constituency was where my mum grew-up. and homelessness is close to my whole families’ hearts, especially after we volunteered together with ‘Crisis at Christmas’ the year before last.
The response has been overwhelming. I was amazed to watch the momentum this petition gained, recently going up passed 270,000 signatories. It was truly humbling to read the reasons people gave for signing, from “no-one should be punished for being homeless”, to “the homeless should be helped, not vilified”, to just simply “I’m signing because I’m human”. What is more, constituents from Mr Dudley’s own borough have been quick to reach out to me personally and state that his views in no way represent the values of inclusivity and compassion that the Royal Borough stands for. Despite condemnation by the Prime Minister, Mr Dudley has yet to publicly apologise for his remarks. On Monday night he faced a vote of no confidence from his own party, but passed. In the wake of the vote, three Councillors have resigned and will serve on as independent Conservative Councillors. They say they have no confidence in his leadership after the horrendous comments he has made.
This goes far further the Mr Dudley’s remarks. No matter where you live in the UK, it’s impossible to escape the plight of homelessness. This petition addresses the symptoms, but until greater steps are taken to address the causes, I think people will naturally look for outlets to express their anger at the current status quo. People become homeless for a huge variety of complex reasons; family breakdown, abuse, financial troubles, and it can happen to absolutely anyone. Many of us feel so passionately about ending it. That and the fact that the prospect of sleeping outside in the current freezing cold temperatures is terrifying.
It goes beyond comprehension that 1824 Vagrancy Act is being used by councils to prosecute rough sleepers. The law accords the police powers to arrest and detain for up to three months anyone found, “lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or waggon, not having any visible means of subsistence”. This outdated and cruel legislation effectively criminalises homeless people and allows for their arrest simply for the “crime” of sleeping rough. In 2016/17, a Freedom of Information request reported 1,810 prosecutions under the act. Homelessness is not a criminalised issue, it is a humanitarian crisis that shames all wealthy nations.
There is work being done. Thanks to Conservative backbench MP Bob Blackman The Homelessness Reduction Bill came into law in April last year and will see government give £61 million to local authorities to help meet the costs of providing extra help and advice to homeless people, and people are risk of losing their home.
This is a good start. However more clearly needs to be done. I think the incredible support this petition has gained proves that the public are overwhelmingly urging politicians to now go further and end rough sleeping one and for all. In a country as wealthy as the UK we should never accept homelessness is an unavoidable problem. I am calling for long-term solutions.
Although so far I have been unsuccessful, until the Royal Wedding I will keep trying to organise a meeting with Mr Dudley, in order to present our petition to him face to face, on behalf of all the signatories. Let’s not let rough sleeping become the accepted norm.