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New student society ReadiStreet aims to alleviate suffering of Reading’s homeless community

ReadiStreet was formed last summer by a group of students who felt compelled to address one of the most greatest social issues in our local community; homelessness.

As a society our primary targets are twofold: to raise greater awareness among the student body about homelessness, and organise fundraising events to support some of the excellent local charities whose work directly benefits the homeless and vulnerable.

However, one of the regular events which serves as a focal point of our activities, is volunteering at the Soup Kitchen ran by the local charitable organisation, Faith, found at St. Mary’s Church just opposite from the Purple Turtle Bar on Wednesdays and Fridays from 7-8:30pm.

The below article aims to raise greater awareness, and hopefully action, regarding one of the most outrageous and outdated laws which continues to victimise the vulnerable.

When looking at an international portrait of homelessness it is sometimes easy to fall into the complacency of thinking that  ‘we’re doing ok’, especially with existence of hundreds of charities across Britain fighting homelessness and the recent implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2018) which places more responsibility than ever on councils to support those at risk of homelessness. But such a portrait obscures dangerous realities and worrying statistics both concerning the national picture of homelessness in Britain as well as the local situation in Reading.

An investigation by the homeless charity Crisis found that last Christmas an anticipated 24,000 rough sleepers spent Christmas on the streets.[1] Whilst over 130’000 children woke up on the 25th of December in temporary accommodation such as a hostel or emergency accommodation provided by the council.[2] And the situation in Reading presents no more an optimistic picture. Data released by the Office of National Statistics reveals that the number of rough sleepers  in 2013-17 dying in Reading approached nearly three times the national average.[3]

Thus homelessness charities and support organisations are pursuing a number of campaigns to reverse this outrageous reality of modern British society as well as target specific laws which serve to elevate the suffering of the more vulnerable in society. And one of the biggest targets for charities across the country is the 1824 Vagrancy Act.

The 1824 Vagrancy Act was introduced into the penal code at a time when the British legislature were entrenched in the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) and therefore is very much a reflection of the outdated and archaic social views of the time. The vagrancy act in effect serves to make it a criminal offense to beg or sleep rough on the streets of Britain and therefore can be considered as amounting to the criminalisation of homelessness in 21st century Britain

It would be all too understandable to resign this law to those groups of archaic laws which still reside in the statute books, though are no longer enforced such as the 1332 law which dictates all ‘beached whales’ must first be offered to the Reigning Monarch and therefore dismiss its significance.

However, such a view would be mistaken, as this law continues to be regularly enforced on our streets. A report conducted by Crisis found that in 2018, prosecutions were brought against over 1000 individuals under the Vagrancy act.[4]

Additionally, the report noted that the law is often used informally, with officers ordering the homeless to remove themselves from a certain area without a formal caution or arrest. One particular disgusting testimony relates to that of the injustice delivered to Kevin Bigg, a rough sleeper in Carlisle who was arrested when a child threw £2 into his sleeping bag. He was fined £100 for begging, even though he hadn’t asked for the money.[5]

Biggs story is just one in 1000s of those who have needlessly suffered under the discrimination and injustice of a law which undeniably belongs in our history books.

As Christmas approaches it is important to remember that the some of the most vulnerable in our society are not only threatened by the harsh winter elements, but also a law which serves to punish them for trying to survive.

[1] https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/more-than-24-000-people-facing-christmas-sleeping-rough-or-in-cars-trains-buses-and-tents-crisis-warns/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/05/130000-homeless-children-to-be-in-temporary-lodgings-over-christmas

[3] https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/shocking-number-homeless-deaths-reading-15884350

[4] https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/240604/cri0220_vagrancyact_report_aw_web.pdf

[5] https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2019/mar/18/join-campaign-for-repeal-of-vagrancy-act

About Charlie Tyler


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