Homelessness is not a crime

Homelessness is not a crime

The Vagrancy Act

Under current legislation, the Vagrancy Act of 1824, rough sleeping has been treated as a criminal offense in England and Wales, allowing authorities to move individuals on or impose fines of up to £1,000. However, after years of campaigning by organisations like Crisis, Parliament voted to repeal this outdated Act in February 2022. Despite the vote, the repeal has yet to be enacted, leaving the Vagrancy Act technically still in force.

 

Criminal Justice Bill

Now, with the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill, there are fears that the progress made towards decriminalising homelessness could be reversed. The proposed bill seeks to criminalise ‘nuisance’ rough sleeping, with vague criteria that could encompass individuals sleeping in doorways or exhibiting ‘excessive smell,’ or even those who simply appear to be intending to sleep on the streets. This broad definition leaves ample room for interpretation and raises serious concerns about the potential for discriminatory enforcement.

The Criminal Justice Bill not only fails to address the underlying causes of homelessness but also risks further stigmatising and marginalising an already vulnerable population. By treating rough sleepers as ‘nuisances’ to be policed rather than individuals in need of support and assistance, the proposed legislation undermines efforts to provide compassionate and effective solutions to homelessness.

At its core, this issue speaks to larger questions of social justice and human rights. The criminalisation of homelessness not only violates the dignity and autonomy of those experiencing homelessness but also perpetuates cycles of poverty and exclusion. We need to prioritise housing stability, and access to support services such as Open Door and community-based solutions.

 

“Only when we treat people as humans, rather than a nuisance, will we end rough sleeping for good.”

Crisis chief executive Matt Downie