We are shocked and saddened to hear proposals to criminalise people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets and penalise charities that offer them support.

To suggest rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the root causes of homelessness. No one chooses to risk their lives by deciding to live on the streets, but with the average age of death for those sleeping rough being 45 for men and 43 for women, too many people pay the ultimate price.

Those who sleep on the streets frequently have complex and multiple needs. Many have experienced multiple traumas such as extreme poverty, violence, abuse, or mental illness. Others may have left the criminal justice system, armed forces or the care system without the right support in place. Homelessness represents a whole-system failure.

Over the past 12 months, there has been a 21% rise in the number of people seen rough sleeping in London alone. The answer to this doesn’t lie in criminalising people for using a tent to protect themselves from the elements, it lies in long-term investment in housing and the full range of support services that tackle the root causes of homelessness.
At SCT we are not waiting for the government to act and know with the right care and support people are able to transform their lives.

We don’t just offer people a warm safe place to live, but we also tackle the root causes of homelessness and addiction. Our counsellors, help people address past traumas. Our tutors run classes that help people build skills, confidence and make vital new social connections, and help some to start to think about future employment. Our housing team help people find a safe place to live, so they can move on and rebuild their lives when they are ready.

We plan in the near future to do even more to reach the people at risk of homelessness and addiction in our East London communities.

Everyone should have the right to a safe place to live and thrive. Homelessness in a country as wealthy as the UK is a national scandal. Criminalising the most vulnerable people in society will not solve the problem. Instead, we need to tackle the root causes of homelessness and invest in services that prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming trapped in a cycle of rough sleeping.

Tony Chasteauneuf,
Chief Executive Officer, Spitalfields Crypt Trust