‘We’re criminalised for living on streets', say rough sleepers

Homeless say they have noticed a change in approach by police

Sunday, 13th February — By Isabelle Stanley


Homeless tell how they’ve felt more aggressively targeted by police in recent months

ROUGH sleepers say they are sick of being criminalised and moved on by the police, and just want to be treated with respect.

Homeless people who spoke to the New Journal said they were being moved on more regularly – and aggressively – by officers in recent months.

Swez, who has been sleeping rough in King’s Cross, told the New Journal about his experiences with the police.

He said: “It’s gotten a lot worse recently. When I was first sleeping out we used to have a laugh, it was like a community.

“The police have been threatening us, moving us for no reason and taking us to the [police] station to waste our time and leaving us for six to eight hours in the cells – just for sitting here.

“We haven’t done anything and they can’t even give a reason.”

He added: “We have to go in the back alleys where no one can see us and hide from them. Even when we go out of sight in parks like they tell us to, they still turn up.”

JP, who can usually be found in Camden Town with his dog Bullseye, said: “Every day the police try to move us on. I just want to be left alone with Bullseye to get on with things. I’m not doing any harm.”

Last Tuesday, the New Journal witnessed one of these confrontations. JP had become distressed after a stranger had threatened to taser his dog – a threat which must have seemed very real to him after, as the CNJ reported at the time, the police tasered his dog in 2018.

Police saw JP shouting and asked him to leave, telling him: “This isn’t a hotel, you need to get up… don’t act like a five-year-old.” A security guard from Sainsbury’s came out to vouch for him, and the police left. JP and homeless outreach groups think he should never have been told to leave in the first place.

Street Population Engagement Officer PC Michael O’Brady, who is the lead officer on all rough sleeping issues in Camden, said: “I would like to think that officers engaged in the activity [with JP] didn’t happen and part of my role is to make colleagues aware that, should they come in contact with any members of the street population community, then they are to contact myself.

“It will then be up to me to link with partner agencies who will attempt to engage and link in with this individual rough sleeper in order to support them moving forward.”

Jodie Beck, a policy officer at human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “While it’s tricky if someone is arguably causing distress, it’s important to get to the bottom of why they’re upset and why they’re sleeping rough – and we need to ask if the police are making it worse.

“If any of us becomes homeless or finds ourselves out on the streets, we should be able to find support and safety.

“But rather than try to address the root causes of homelessness, the police are criminalising people, and pushing the problem out of sight.”

A check by Streets Kitchen in Warren Street

Elodie Berland, from homeless outreach group Streets Kitchen, added: “It’s very important to remember that homelessness alone is not a crime, and should not be dealt with by the police.

“Often, the reason homeless people are distressed is because they’re being moved on. The police being patronising and using criminalising language like ‘non-compliant’ doesn’t help.”

Streets Kitchen go out six times a week and speak with all the rough sleepers they see.

Ms Berland said: “The past month or two it’s escalated, there have been less people on outreach around all the stations.

“Usually there are a lot, but those areas have been very quiet and we’ve had a lot of reports from our community members of being moved on.

“Everyone we speak to is angry because they’re being moved on and their stuff is being taken.”

Sam, who has been living on the streets on and off for six years with her partner, had her belongings taken by private security guards.

She said: “They took our whole lives. They didn’t give a reason. We’re trying to make the best of things and they do this. They called our stuff ‘rubbish’, but it’s our temporary home. They don’t understand because they’ve never been homeless.”

Sam and her partner say they have been referred for housing on numerous occasions but it has never been arranged.

“We both just want a place,” she said.

“I’m sick of it.”

Forced to move on by ‘CPN’ orders

ONE tool used to force rough sleepers to move is a Community Protection Notice, which bans the subject from a certain area for a set period of time, writes Isabelle Stanley.

The police have served at least 22 of these orders on rough sleepers in the past year – half of these have then been arrested for breaching the orders.

PC Michael O’Brady says the orders are used as a last resort.

He said: “Enforcement is considered with Routes Off The Streets and other partner agencies involved, for those involved in street-based ASB (anti-social behaviour) who consistently refuse the services designed to help them while causing harm to others in the community.”

He added: “CPN warnings are issued which allow the individual opportunities to access the services available to them and to moderate their behaviour. A full CPN may then be issued if there is no compliance. The CPN process includes positive requirement as well as prohibitions. These positive requirements include access to treatment and accepting offers of accommodation.”

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