Arrested and fined for sleeping on the streets under 200-year old law

homless

Two years ago, I was homeless, living next to a bin outside MacDonald’s on the streets of Blackpool. When someone from the local council did come to speak to me, it was to move me on.

At 2am one night, I was arrested in the doorway I was sleeping in and taken to court the next day. My charge, sleeping rough and begging for money under the Vagrancy Act. In court, I was fined £150. The fine was taken out of my benefits – I already had next to nothing, but that made it even worse. I was sent right back out on to the street, I had nowhere else to go. I walked into town and went straight back to begging again, forced to rely on the generosity of strangers to get by.

Today, Crisis released new research showing that across the country, the police have made over 8,500 arrests under the Vagrancy Act (1824) in the last five years. On top of that, they’ve found that over 70% of people think arresting people for sleeping rough is a waste of police time.

While I was homeless, I got no support at all – instead, I was just told I couldn’t get help because I didn’t have a local connection to Manchester. I spent two years rotting away, lost in addiction, then the police came along to arrest me.

With the Vagrancy Act, it’s like the people who could and should be helping you are the ones dismissing you, making you feel like a statistic. It’s another knock when you’re already on the streets and you’re already feeling so far down. Every day 300 people walk past and only three of them even look at you. You feel so alone, no one sees you. You just feel so lost.

You get the odd policewoman who’s nice and who will chat to you, but they’re restricted as to what they can do, and they have to arrest you because it’s their job. You’re a problem to them, and they don’t give you a solution. After I went back to sleeping rough, I was there for a couple of months. Then someone from a local charity came and spoke to me and helped me in to a flat.

They helped me get clean, which I have been for over a year now.

It’s only people that speak to you that get you through and humanise you again.

On the streets, you don’t feel human. People just think you’re trying to scam them, but you’re not, you’re lost. My life is the total the opposite now, I’ve gone from sitting outside a bin feeling totally alone to helping others, trying to get others off the streets and get sober.

Because of the support I’ve had, I’ve started to rebuild my life. I’ve got structure again and I’ve got a great number of people around me who keep me safe. I’ve rebuilt relationships with my family and children and I’m working again, I’m building up my own plastering business.

The Vagrancy Act should be scrapped because we’re all human.

We need help, not criminalising. Criminalising people for begging or sleeping rough is just making a desperate situation worse, it’s pushing people further away from help. When I ended up on the streets, it went against everything I’d known.

Before I became homeless, I didn’t have a criminal record and I’d never been to jail. But I’ve now got one offence against me, all because of the Vagrancy Act which punishes you, at a time when you need support the most. Homelessness is not a crime. The money spent on sending people to court would be better spent on giving people the support they need to get out of homelessness and to rebuild their lives. But until we see the back of the Vagrancy Act, police will continue to be forced to arrest people instead of finding out the support they need and helping them get it.

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