A group of volunteers and workers from the Simon Community supported the launch of the new Rights Guide for Rough Sleepers on Monday 7 December.
The guide was produced by Liberty and Housing Justice who along with other charities including Simon have become alarmed about the ways in which the human rights of rough sleepers have been increasingly threatened by the authorities. The guide clearly sets out the rights of homeless people so that they themselves know what their legal position is.
In the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012, which is also Boris Johnson’s deadline for ending rough sleeping in London, the number and the severity of enforcement measures against rough sleepers has been growing. Simon volunteers regularly speak to distressed rough sleepers who have been woken up and moved along – or stopped and searched – several times a night, and certain areas are now out-of-bounds for two or more rough sleepers, to name but a few.
The guide gives a clear plain English explanation of the law regarding issues like stop-and-search, arrest, dispersal zones and urinating in public places. It has been drawn up in collaboration with homeless people who have reported the most common and most distressing problems they experience. There are already plans to translate the guide into other languages, including Polish.
Apart from Housing Justice and Liberty, the charities involved in drawing up the guide include The Pavement and Z2K. Funding came from the London Church Leaders Group and Christian Action in Housing.
At the launch event at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church Sally Leigh, London Coordinator of Housing Justice said ‘We believe it is crucial to let homeless people know their rights. Hopefully this guide will help protect some of our most vulnerable people in society from further trouble with the law and prevent further personal misery.’ Val Stevenson of The Pavement added: ‘We are inundated with readers’ letters asking if they are being treated unlawfully. Producing this booklet was the obvious solution.’
The launch event relied on Simon Volunteers to lead groups of volunteers and journalists going to all the well known hot spots in the City to begin distributing the guide to rough sleepers.
Following the launch there has been widespread coverage in the media, including the Society Guardian (9th December) and the BBC. Daisy Greenwell of The Big Issue joined one of the groups and is writing a feature piece to appear early in the New Year.
While no one could argue that there is never a role for enforcement approaches against certain types of anti social behaviour associated with some rough sleepers, many of the people that the Simon Community is in touch with feel they are being increasingly persecuted simply for not having a home. If they do not wish to take up the offer of a hostel bed, even when their experience of the hostel is not very positive, then the authorities turn increasingly quickly to these questionable tactics.
Simon Community volunteers are already monitoring the situation, and this new guide will be a valuable tool to clarify the legal and human rights of all people in society, whether or not they are housed.
Copies of the guide are available from Housing Justice (www.housingjustice.org.uk) or The Pavement (www.thepavement.org.uk).