Sam's story. ‘The whole experience of the Vagrancy Act was dehumanising.’
“I’m a British citizen who grew up abroad. I moved to London in 2013 hoping to improve my life because I was living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder from abuse and neglect in my childhood, plus bullying in school and at work. I had some money and a credit card when I arrived. I hoped that this would be enough to tide me over, but when the money started to run out, I realised that homelessness was something I couldn’t escape from. There was a period of three months when I had no money at all, and by that time I was also sleeping on the streets.
That’s when the Vagrancy Act was being used. The police would come and ask about my details. I gave them my reason for being in the area. I said I had an ongoing case with the council about my housing, but they didn’t really listen; I just felt harassed. They also seemed to conflate begging with rough sleeping, and the two aren’t the same thing. Some people do beg, but I personally never did. So I eventually stopped answering their questions.
After four warnings for sleeping rough under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act, it got to a point where I got taken to court, to the City of London Magistrates Court. I was advised by my solicitor to plead guilty, but I didn’t think I had done anything wrong so I chose not to. The way I saw it, I had a good reason for being there. If I had pleaded guilty, I don’t know what they would have done. But I knew at the very least it would have led to a criminal conviction, and the information pack that my solicitor had given me did state that a jail sentence was a possibility. In the end I managed to persuade the judge that I had a valid reason for sleeping rough, and it was thrown out of court in five minutes, but it caused months of waiting and worry.
The whole experience of the Vagrancy Act was dehumanising. What helped me in the end was just sticking my guns and being assertive with the council. But is it really in the public interest to convict people who have the misfortune of being on the streets in the first place? Should they be criminals for that reason?”
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 and find out how you can be involved.
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