Ass' laws highlight injustice

Last week, the Government finally agreed to abolish a ridiculous 200-year-old piece of law that further victimised people who are homeless.

The Vagrancy Act made rough sleeping and begging a criminal offence, and it was an ass.

HARD TIMES: according to official figures, homelessness in our cities and towns is on the rise.

Have you ever seen this piece of legislation in action? I certainly have, and I was appalled. Homeless men and women, at their lowest points, were told to leave whatever town and city they were based in, or face arrest. Imagine that: you suffer a life of pain and rejection, as so many homeless people have, and in your greatest moment of need, you are rejected yet again – this time by the whole town and city.

Perhaps even worse than being told to leave a place, is not being given an alternative place to go. There simply are not enough homes or shelters to cater for all of the UK’s homeless people. The message they are given is, ‘we don’t care where you go, as long as it is not here’.

What a dreadful way to treat people.

MOVING ON: police and councils are not slow in clearing homeless people out of urban areas.

Homelessness is, and never should have been a criminal act. You only have to speak to people suffering homelessness to realise they are more a victim than a criminal mastermind.  It took two centuries for the Government to realise that. What a shame, I wonder how many lives could have been changed or saved if only we had shown them compassion instead of kicking them when they were down.

Whilst I do applaud this Government for overturning this legislation, a new law, being debated in Parliament, could make it a criminal offence for people to live out of their car or vehicle. Given that this is the step most people must take when they are kicked out of their homes, the result could be dire.

Do you know an average of 91 families per day were made homeless during the pandemic (figures from the Office for National Statistics – April to June 2021)?

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN: while an old law has been scrapped, an equally bad one could replace it.

We really must stop finding new ways to make things worse for the homeless and, instead, pool our resources and energy to help them. For those without a place they can call home, the scales of justice have been out of balance for too long. Let’s bring about restoration and abolish retribution.

If you are interested in the homelessness crisis, and some of the innovative methods to overcome it, why not check out the latest edition of Sorted. It includes a special report on the national homelessness crisis that includes exclusive reports featuring the Church of England, the Salvation Army, Crisis, Habitat for Humanity and many more.

Chris Kerr is a regular Sorted columnist and a senior legal industry executive.



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