Amnesty tells Camden Council its treatment of rough sleepers breaches human rights

Nadia Shah: 'We have publicly called out unacceptable treatment of people rough sleeping'

Friday, 4th February — By Isabelle Stanley

pics2022feb3 Image 2022-02-04 at 00.18.42 (1)

Elodie Berland from Streets Kitchen checks on a rough sleeper

AMNESTY has accused Camden Council of human rights breaches over its treatment of rough sleepers, the New Journal can reveal.

The human rights charity – known for its international campaigns – has written to Camden after being handed details of a series of concerning incidents, including private security hosing down rough sleepers, council officers taking their luggage and photographing them without consent.

In a rare step to criticise an individual local authority, it joined with Liberty for a letter that warned of an “ever-growing hostile environment” that needed to be tackled.

The council received it in October after rough sleepers being hosed down was caught on camera.

Amnesty and Liberty said in the letter: “The reported incidents of harassment towards rough sleepers contravene their rights under Article 8 of the ECHR that enshrines everyone’s right to respect for their private and family life.”

It added: “We are deeply concerned that such incidents form part of an ever-growing hostile environment across LB Camden for those sleeping rough.”

Elodie Berland, who volunteers with homeless outreach organisation Streets Kitchen, has been present at several of the incidents that have been raised with the council.

“In the past two years we’ve witnessed and reported a number of issues: belongings being taken away, anti-social behaviour notices being served for begging or just sitting – it’s any excuse to move people on,” she said.

One of the worst things she said she saw was private security guards hosing down a rough sleeper outside Warren Street in September.

Although they were not working for the council, homelessness groups say Camden should have responded more robustly to the incident.

Ms Berland said: “It was horrible to see. This guy was hosing down the pavement and then was pretending to hose down the guy on the mattress and they were laughing and joking around.”

She added: “Every day doing outreach we see how the rough sleepers are being treated and how they say they are being treated by the council.

“There’s no humanity there, I think it’s all to do with money and businesses and it’s all politics. It’s completely failing to treat people with respect.”

Ms Berland filmed the event and sent it to Amnesty and Liberty.

Allen Hogarth, head of policy at Amnesty UK, said he was “shocked” when he saw the video and decided they had to raise the issue.

But he was disappointed by the council’s response, he said: “They acknowledged what had happened and explained what their policies were, and said that they had the best interests of rough sleepers at heart. But it’s not quite clear yet what the council are going to do, we’d like more assurances from them.”

Jodie Beck from Liberty agreed, she said: “We felt like the council’s response was a classic restatement of all of the buzzwords, it’s really important to feel reassured they’re taking action – but we didn’t feel that.”

She added: “It’s important to say that all of this does come back to the government, and the lack of funding – but there are things the council can do. What we saw with the response from Camden Council is that there are a lot of statements of ‘we’re doing this’, but the question needs to be asked: is this being reflected on the ground? And what we found is, it isn’t.”

Labour councillor Nadia Shah at last week’s full council meeting

Cabinet councillor Nadia Shah said: “In the last six months we have publicly called out unacceptable treatment of people rough sleeping and taken swift action against the people responsible to stop this from happening again.

“We expect people experiencing homelessness to be treated with respect and dignity by everyone in Camden at all times. I encourage anyone to report concerns they have directly to the police and to make us aware.”

She added: “Supporting people to rebuild their lives away from the streets is Camden’s clear priority. We commit £10 million each year to provide 650 beds in our adult pathway and to provide 800 people sleeping rough the support that they need to break the cycle of homelessness.

“This winter we have worked with our partners to open an additional ‘in for good’ 30-bed provision that is helping people to move on from rough sleeping, a specialist service for people sleeping rough who have complex needs, and respite rooms offering a dedicated support service for women sleeping rough.

“Thanks to these actions we have reduced rough sleeping in Camden by more than a third over the last three months and supported nearly 100 people in to accommodation.”

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