With a 27% increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets, we’re shocked to hear that the government continues to pursue new legislation that could criminalise people experiencing homelessness.

We’re facing a homeless emergency, and the policy demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the root causes of homelessness. It cannot be solved by fining people without the means to pay or imprisoning people because they have nowhere else to go. We need investment in services to support people who have nowhere to call home, not criminalisation of people who are victims of years of policy failure.

There is some positive news, with a group of MPs campaigning to repeal 200-year-old legislation that criminalises people for sleeping on the streets. However, we need to go beyond decriminalisation and ensure that people have support to rebuild their lives and leave the chaos of homelessness behind.

People experiencing long-term homelessness or rough sleeping often have severe and complex 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. People end up on the streets because of a lack of the right support.

For nearly 60 years we’ve seen at first hand the difference the right support makes. Each year we help hundreds of people establish a lasting recovery from homelessness and addiction, and develop strong foundations for a more fulfilling future.

Launched in 2020, our Housing First service has given us a new insight into the transformative impact of tailored support on people who’ve experienced long-term homelessness. Through the service, we’ve supported 19 extremely vulnerable adults who have experienced long-term homelessness, offering direct access to self-contained accommodation and wrap-around support.

As well as helping people maintain their tenancy, we also support people with issues such as addictions, physical and mental health needs, and claiming benefits.

86% of Housing First residents have maintained their tenancies, many for the first time in their adult lives. This is a significant achievement and we’re convinced that the expertise and care of our support workers and our partner agencies has been the key to transforming so many lives.

We fully support the idea of repealing the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act and decriminalising homelessness but we urge policymakers to look beyond the legislation and consider the structural changes required to not only help people off the streets but ensure they don’t return to a cycle of short-term accommodation and homelessness.

As well as removing draconian legislation, we urge policymakers to invest in initiatives like Housing First to transform people’s lives forever.

Tony Chasteauneuf

Chief Executive, SCT