Peter's story. 'There’s no need for the Vagrancy Act. It’s not the dark ages, and anyway, it’s not working.'
“I’ve been sleeping in Westminster station subway for about eight months because it’s warm. Usually I get up at 6am and then don’t go back until 10pm, but the girl in the toilets always kindly charges my phone for me, so one day I sat there for an hour reading the paper while it charged. Not asking for anything, just keeping quiet, when two police officers and another one in plain clothes came down. He said ‘You know what we’re going to say, don’t you? We’re going to ask you to move out of the tunnel.’ I said, I’m not doing anything wrong. The public come, and they sit down in here sometimes, so what’s the problem with me? He said, ‘Well, we believe you’re begging.’ I said I don’t ask people for anything. I don’t have a cup or a hat. He said, ‘Well, you have to leave anyway because you’re near a business.’
Then they said they would give me a Section 4 written warning if I didn’t move, and when I asked them what that was, they said it was the Vagrancy Act. I called a friend of mine who is a homelessness campaigner, and explained what was happening, then I left, but I told them they hadn’t heard the last of it. My friend told the newspapers, and that’s when the stories about the Vagrancy Act being used in Westminster started appearing in the press.
It’s true some people do have a drink or drug problem, but those people need help to get over that addiction, and even if they do get them into treatment it’s never long enough. They might get on methadone, but then they don’t get housed, so then they just end up back on the streets afterwards. It’s got to be long term, not short term. There are also so many people with mental health issues who would rather be on the street than in dangerous chaotic hostels. People don’t realise the few alternatives that exist are actually worse for them. That’s what it was like for me.
The police I know are usually alright. They’ve never offered me any support apart from a bacon sandwich, but most of them will know your name and have a chat with you. I know it doesn’t look good being homeless, but we don’t deserve that. I actually think it’s good for the MPs to see homeless people when they come out of Parliament.
There’s no need for the Vagrancy Act. It’s not the dark ages, and anyway, it’s not working. If they move me on again, I’ll just be back like a rubber ball. Even if it did stop people begging, they might start committing real crimes just to survive, and it’s the public who’ll suffer even more. They should be helping people before they get to the street rather than criminalising them once they get there. That’s how to end homelessness.”
The Vagrancy Act does nothing to resolve the root causes of homelessness. In fact, it’s more likely to push someone further from the vital services that help them to move away from the streets. The Government is soon to review the Vagrancy Act, but hasn’t said that they will repeal it – yet. Until they do, vulnerable people will continue to be pushed even further from support. That’s why we’re calling on the UK Government to #ScraptheAct once and for all. Sign up to the campaign here to find out how you can be involved.
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