In an exclusive for Media Diversified, Samir Jeraj from the Museum of Homelessness reveals for the first time the findings of an FOI request from last year that indicated one in three people sleeping rough in London are being issued with warning notices – a disproportionate number and a misuse of police powers.
Last week Liberty won a case on behalf of a woman who was homeless and was issued a “Community Protection Notice” (CPN by the police. These are a popular tool and one of many that the police and other authorities use to criminalise people who are homeless, setting out a range of restrictions on an individual from banning them from particular areas to stopping them going into shops without a reason. Breaching these restrictions results in a criminal penalty.
In our experience, these kinds of restrictions are handed out with little to no regards to the human being they are being applied to. Several years ago, when working on orders banning people who were homeless from train stations, one person who was unable to read was given a series of orders and restrictions on paper to obey or face criminal penalties.
In the case Liberty won, the Metropolitan Police had copied and pasted the details from another CPN. Nor did they give her warning, or provide any evidence. Again, this is a common theme – people who are homeless often have vulnerabilities that mean they cannot seek justice for themselves, let alone take on the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It is a brutal irony, because many of the people in our community are survivors of trauma and abuse, but have been repeatedly failed by the police, CPS and other institutions.
Last year we obtained data on a pilot scheme being run by the Met in East London to issue “warning” notices to people deemed to be causing a “nuisance”. Nearly 11,500 of these notices were issued in a year, and 1108 were given to people listed as having “no fixed abode”. Given the official data says around 3000-4000 people sleep outside, the proportion could be as high as one in three rough sleepers having one of these notices.
This is one in a set of initiatives and operations designed to force people who are homeless out of an area, or to nominally force them into services deemed to be “good for them.” We would contend that many of the people in our community have experienced coercion like this from a young age, many survived the care system and are still surviving the mental health system and the immigration system – with the threat of deportation a very real one.
Operation Luscombe was trialled in the City of London in 2018/19 and is now being used by at least 23 police forces in the UK. It works on an enforcement basis, where all services are consolidated into one place called an intervention hub, and there is a card warning system with each card being related to a different kind of criminal order or warning. If people attend the hub they are nominally fine, if not they receive one of these cards which is putting them on the path to a criminal order. There is also a focus on info sharing between agencies, including the Home Office, raising the threat of deportation.
While being homeless is not in itself a crime, the police and other agencies have a whole set of powers they can use to harass, intimidate and force people to move on. These include not just CPNs, issued under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act but powers under the arcane Vagrancy Act. As we noted above, these come with little accountability because people who are homeless have little faith in making a complaint to the authorities, who themselves are unlikely to believe them or to act on it. In the case Liberty won, the judge described the CPN powers as “draconian” and said that they “must be applied with a degree of humanity and proportionality.”
Our friends from Streets Kitchen have recently observed a new special street force police in Camden who have been brought in. While the rhetoric and marketing for initiatives like this are often couched in the language of care, members of our community have found them not just lacking but intimidating and actively making things worse – adding another traumatic incident to their lives. In one recent incident in Camden reported in the Camden New Journal, a police officer threatened and insulted a person sleeping rough – and only left when a local security guard intervened on the rough sleeper’s behalf.
Criminalisation is a means to keep people who are homeless controlled and “out of the way.” No single house or flat was built as a result of a CPN, nor does state-sanctioned police harassment do anything for someone who has had a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the authorities. Instead of these cruel and punitive policies, government would be best advised to look at building social housing, improving the benefit system, and scrapping the hostile environment.
Samir Jeraj is a freelance journalist and an associate of the Museum of Homelessness and can be found on Twitter @sajeraj. The Museum of Homelessness is a multi-award winning museum, led by people with experience of homelessness, that fights injustice through independent research and campaigning. They can be found on Twitter @our_moh.
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