New York introduces ‘right to sleep outside’: what rights do homeless people have in London?


New York could soon become the first city to introduce a “homeless bill of rights,” giving rough sleepers “the right to sleep outside”.

The move cleared the first hurdle to enacting the new policy when it was approved by the New York City Council in April, and will give unprecedented rights to those considered homeless.

New York City Public Defender Juman Williams, who introduced the idea, called it “a basic standard, a moral and legal obligation that the city must meet for vulnerable New Yorkers who do not live at home,” and would give rough sleepers the right to do the same. sleeping on the streets as the right to shelter if desired, the right to an interpreter and the right to be accommodated in a shelter according to his gender identity.

The move is the first for a big city.

In the UK, an estimated number of people rough sleep in England recently increased for the first time since 2017.

In September, the government published its strategy to end rough sleeping for good., which aimed to fulfill a manifesto pledge to eradicate rough sleeping. The surge was named a “A massive, collective failure” by one homelessness charity.

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, which is a national homelessness charity, said the increase of more than a quarter in the number of people sleeping rough every year from 2021 “is evidence of how the cost life crisis exacerbated long-standing drivers of homelessness“.

He said: “Everyone deserves a safe place to live and the support they need to keep it. This shocking rise in the number of rough sleepers is a massive collective failure. People are being let down by the systems that are supposed to protect them, pushed out onto the streets at the expense of their physical and mental health.”

But what are the current homeless laws in England? We look at the laws and help currently in place for rough sleepers.

How many homeless people are there in London?

The latest statistics showed that 858 people slept overnight in the capital in 2022, compared to 640 people in 2021, an increase of 218.

In England last autumn, 3,069 people slept rough in one night, according to annual government figures. In 2022, the rate of people sleeping rough on one night in England was 5.4 per 100,000 – up from 4.3 per 100,000 in 2021, but down from 8.5 per 100,000 in 2017.

Almost half, 47 percent, of all people who sleep outside one autumn night are in London and South-Eastern– informed the government.

Is it forbidden to sleep rough?

Under current UK law, sleeping rough is a criminal offence section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824which uses language and descriptions more akin to a Dickens novel. The crisis of charity says local authorities and the police are increasingly using enforcement measures in England and Wales to tackle rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour, such as begging and street drinking.

The charity says it is “concerned about any measure that could make rough sleepers’ lives more difficult and put them at greater risk of harm”.

Formal enforcement measures taken by the police, local authorities and other agencies can include issuing a warning, fine or even arresting a homeless person.

Why is the Vagrancy Act controversial?

Homelessness charities and organizations say people are being arrested simply for being homeless does not solve the problem of sleep in the UK.

The Vagrancy Act was enacted in 1824 to clear makeshift camps of reservist soldiers and sailors left without income or housing after the Napoleonic Wars.

This is an archaic law that has been used by police and local councils ever since. The law was developed by charities and following a campaign the UK government promised to repeal the legislation in 2021.

Speaking at the time, a government spokesman said: “We are very clear that we will not criminalize rough sleeping and the government will repeal the outdated Homelessness Act.

“However, there are some cases of unsavory behavior by those who beg or sleep, which can cause harm to individuals and the general public.

“Where this happens, the Government wants to give the police and local authorities the tools to refer vulnerable people to support when needed and help the public feel safer.”

In February 2022, the law was finally repealed by Parliament, but it is still in force technically on the books and going through the recall process.

Charities such as A big problem that the law is not repealed in its entirety.

The Upgrading and Regeneration Bill, which was written to replace the Homelessness Act, contained a clause for the government to “ignore the repeal of the Act”. It will also allow ministers to create “criminal offenses or civil penalties” relating to begging or people considered “rogues and vagabonds”.

The issue continues in parliament.

How to help the sleeping

If you are concerned about someone over the age of 18 who you saw sleeping in London, you can use StreetLink. StreetLink London exists to help end rough sleeping in the capital by enabling members of the public to connect rough sleepers with local services that can help them.

If you think it is a child, contact the police, or if you are concerned that the homeless person’s life is in immediate danger or needs urgent help, call 999.

Young people experiencing homelessness can apply Central point.

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