June 19, 2019 / 4:20 PM / 6 months ago

UK urged not to arrest homeless as rough sleeping hits decade high in London

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rough sleeping in London rose by 18% over the last year, hitting a decade high of 8,855 people, data showed on Wednesday, the majority of whom were new to bedding down in parks or doorways.

Eviction from privately rented accommodation was one of the most common reasons people were pushed on to the streets, found the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), a Mayor of London funded database.

“The rise in rough sleeping across the country and in London is a national disgrace, and at City Hall we have doubled our rough sleeping budget and the size of our outreach team,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement.

Homelessness has been rising in England for nearly a decade amid rising private rents, a freeze on welfare benefits and a shortage of social housing.

The figures were published as politicians and charities launched a campaign to abolish the 195-year-old Vagrancy Act, which criminalizes rough sleeping in England and Wales.

“It’s simply unforgivable that more and more people are being forced to sleep rough on our streets, facing incredible dangers every day,” said Jon Sparkes, head of Crisis, a homelessness charity.

“Worse still, many of those in these devastating circumstances are living under the constant threat of being moved on, fined or arrested under the antiquated Vagrancy Act. This cannot go on.”

More than 1,000 people were prosecuted under the law last year, according to Crisis, facing fines of up to 1,000 pounds ($1,200) and a criminal record.

The government told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it plans to review rough sleeping and homelessness legislation, including the Vagrancy Act.

“No-one in this day and age should be criminalized for having nowhere to live,” the minister for housing and homelessness Heather Wheeler said in emailed comments.

“I’m committed to ending rough sleeping for good.”

The majority of London’s rough sleepers were men, with many needing support with alcohol and mental health issues, the report found.

The number of Central and Eastern European nationals rough sleeping rose by 50% in the last 12 months to about 2,500 people, with the largest non-British group coming from Romania.

Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org for more stories.

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