Rough sleepers given advice on rights

16 December 2009

by Bill Bowder

Airbound message: a hot-air balloon made by homeless and vulnerably-housed young people is inflated outside St Paul's Cathedral in London on Friday PA

Airbound message: a hot-air balloon made by homeless and vulnerably-housed young people is inflated outside St Paul's Cathedral in London on Friday ...

ROUGH SLEEPERS’ rights are under threat as the City of London and the police seek to clear them off the streets before the Olympics, campaigners said this week.

On Monday of last week, Churches and charities issued a “Rights Guide for Rough Sleepers”, which explains how they could sue the police under certain circum­stances. They sug­gested that, under a police and City of London campaign, Operation Poncho, rough sleepers were being woken up and moved several times a night.

Guy Cruls, a spokesman for Housing Justice, one of the charities behind the guide, said: “Operation Poncho is a loose generic term to refer to a medley of methods whereby the police and one or two charities who are working with the City of London move people on.

“They wake up people in the small hours and tell them about the services which they could use, and ask them why they are not using them; but the subtext is ‘Why don’t you go and sleep somewhere where you are less noticeable in the run-up to the Olympics?’

“But many homeless people would prefer to be in the open rather than to stay in hostels, because in hostels they would be rubbing shoulders with drug users. They do not feel the substitutes they are being offered are adequate. The question to ask is ‘Why do people choose to get in touch with these sleepers in the middle of the night when they have all the hours of daylight to contact them?’

“They also use the flimsy excuse that they need to clean the spot where they are sleeping, but it is noticeable that the cleaning services will not clean anywhere else in the street except in that spot.”

The Methodist Church’s public-issues policy adviser, Paul Morrison, said: “By being able to enforce their rights, we hope that rough sleepers will be able to receive the same service that the rest of us take for granted.”

The charities Housing Justice, Liberty, the London Church Leaders Group, Women at the Well, Zac­chaeus 2000, the Salvation Army, the Pavement, and the Simon Com­munity issued the guide. London Church Leaders and Christian Action Housing bore the cost of the design and printing.

A City spokesman said: “The City of London Corporation works in partnership with Broadway and the City of London Police to ensure that those sleeping on our streets have access to specialist services so that ultimately they can get off the streets and begin to re-build their lives. The most fundamental human right is the right to life. Sleeping rough is dangerous, and those sleeping on the streets often have a much shorter life-expectancy than the rest of the population.

“We cannot simply leave rough sleepers alone, some of whom have long-term drug and alcohol depen­dencies. We need to engage with them, check on their welfare, and offer them support; and our out­reach workers do everything they can to ensure their particular needs and requirements are met. No one needs to sleep rough within the City of London area, as we have pledged to find appropriate accom­modation for all who wish to access it.”

Howard Sinclair, the CEO of the homelessness charity Broadway, which has a contract with the City of London, said: “We are not there to coerce people off the streets: we are there to help them off the streets.” He had not been told of any specific case of human-rights abuse, but would investigate any that he was told about. The charity had found accommodation for 500 homeless people over 18 months. He denied that moving them had anything to do with the Lord Mayor’s deadline to clear the streets.

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