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Government Revises Homelessness Bill Amid Backlash, Charities Remain Concerned



Government officials drop proposals to penalize homelessness amid criticism, yet advocates caution that those living on the streets may continue to face consequences. The home secretary has assured that individuals without shelter will be referred to assistance programs prior to facing any legal repercussions, though organizations concerned with homelessness worry these individuals will still be subject to penalties.

Political correspondent @Journoamrogers

Monday, May 13, 2024, 7:

The government has abandoned proposals that opponents claimed would have effectively made homelessness a criminal act, after facing opposition from Conservative MPs.

The Criminal Justice Bill, initially designed to address "nuisance begging," has been significantly softened by the government in response to growing opposition from roughly 40 rebel backbenchers.

Charitable organization Crisis, focused on homelessness, applauded the modifications yet cautioned that the "foundation of the suggested legislation is unchanged."

Legislators expressed concerns over the bill's declared purpose to tackle "nuisance begging," which might have affected individuals sleeping in doorways, those generating "excessive odor," or appearing as if they plan to sleep on the streets.

The initial proposal would have granted police or local officials the authority to enforce "nuisance begging directions" that could relocate individuals. Non-compliance might have led to a one-month prison sentence.

Following concerns raised by 40 Conservative members from both the right and left factions of the party, the legislation will specify that police and local authorities should focus on guiding homeless individuals towards assistance services prior to contemplating any criminal penalties.

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The administration plans to eliminate mentions of odors from the legislation to "clarify" that prior mentions of "smells" were aimed at addressing issues like dumped garbage or human excrement, and not to inadvertently penalize individuals who are unable to bathe.

Individuals who persist in causing disturbances, even after being offered assistance from support services and receiving a warning, will be issued a rough sleeping notice and asked to leave the area.

The proposed measures faced opposition from several Conservative MPs, including Bob Blackman,">kie Aiken, Tracey Crouch, Selaine Saxby, Stephen Hammond, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Jo Gideon, Caroline Nokes, Derek Thomas, John Penrose, and Damian Green.

In a conversation with The Times, Mr. Blackman mentioned that several of his peers found the initial version of the legislation to be "utterly objectionable as it would inadvertently criminalize individuals compelled to live on the streets."

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan expressed to Sky News her view that individuals should not be detained simply based on their odor, stating: "It’s essential to offer support to people – while also ensuring that our streets are safe and the environment is enjoyable."

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After the reversal, Chris Philp, the minister for policing, stated: "Being homeless should not be a criminal offense, however, as we've consistently maintained, actions that disturb public order or pose a threat, like obstructing a local business or a fire exit by sleeping rough, are unacceptable."

Mr. Philp expressed his gratitude to both Mr. Blackman and Ms. Aiken for their commitment and collaborative efforts regarding this matter.

"We have paid close attention to the suggestions and have collaborated effectively to confirm they are balanced, accurately focused, and guide vulnerable individuals towards assistance while safeguarding communities against disruptive conduct."

James Cleverly, serving as the home secretary, also announced that the government plans to repeal the Vagrancy Act of 1824 that criminalizes rough sleeping.

"He announced that the obsolete Vagrancy Act is being discarded in favor of new regulations aimed at helping individuals, while also giving police and local bodies the tools they need to deal with actions that cause public discomfort."

"This administration is attentive, and we have diligently strived to guarantee that these plans focus on assisting those in need, while also making sure that our communities are more secure and well-defended."

Crisis expressed satisfaction that the Westminster government has eliminated some of the more extreme provisions of the bill after facing criticism from activists.

Learn more: Tenants express frustration over delay in prohibiting no-fault evictions in coastal town with dysfunctional rental market.

However, the head of the organization, Matt Downie, expressed that "unfortunately, the basic idea behind the suggested legislation has not changed."

"He stated, 'Individuals compelled to live on the streets will persistently be seen as a bother, facing potential fines and incarceration. This is intolerable.'"

"We have repeatedly stated that these powers are unnecessary."

If the government in Westminster is genuinely committed to eradicating homelessness, it must prioritize proven solutions, including the construction of a significant number of social housing units and enhancing financial support for initiatives such as Housing First.

"Making homelessness a criminal offense is not a solution."

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