The harsh reality of violence against rough sleepers

Earlier week, a rough sleeper was left with life-threatening injuries following an assault in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion. He subsequently died from his injuries.  This assault  attracted nationwide coverage, not because assaults on homeless people are rare, but because of the location of the assault in the gardens of a former royal palace.  Sadly, assaults on homeless people are all too regular.  This is the text of my letter published in today’s Brighton Argus (13th August 2018)

Being a rough sleeper is bad news on so many levels. The average life expectancy of a homeless man is 47 years and just 43 years for a homeless woman.

Rough sleepers are thirty five times more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population, thirteen times more to be the victim of crime, and four times more likely to die from an unnatural cause.

Homeless people in the city are routinely the victims of mindless assaults.  We hear reports of people being set upon while they are asleep in shop doorways, being urinated on, and less frequently, thank goodness, having their sleeping bags set on fire.

The situation is worse for homeless women. In a 2017 study carried out by Cathy Bunker on the experiences of homeless women, virtually all the women described situations of being attacked, spat at, punched, set fire to, urinated on, sexually harassed, assaulted or raped.

One client, Grace, told Cathy: “I’ve seen both men and women get kicked and punched by random people.  I think as well its scarier for women.  Most men think they can handle anyone but most women know they can’t.”

She added: “You sleep with kind of one ear open, it’s not a restful sleep.”

There is little that can be done to protect people while they sleep on the streets.  They might take actions themselves to reduce the risk of violence.  Some sleep in groups, others hide or sleep during the day and walk throughout the night.

Ultimately we have to get people off the streets.  But this responsibility shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of just the City Council.  Action by central government is needed.  This includes funding additional support and housing services, requiring neighbouring authorities to do their bit, and changing policies that are directly causing rough sleeping.

Alcohol and drug use is rife amongst rough sleepers.  We need greater investment in and provision of abstinence-based rehabilitation services, not in services that allow individuals to remain in active addiction.

Finally, people should think carefully about the benefit of giving money to people begging on the streets.  Many are not homeless.  Many beg to feed their addictions.  Saying that you need £20 for a hostel bed is an effective begging technique, but the reality is that none of the city’s hostels charge homeless people upfront for a bed.

If you want to give something, support the Make Change Count campaign and the eight charities in Brighton and Hove that are working to get people off the streets.  To find out more or to donate online go to http://just.ly/makechangecount2018 or text donations saying UMCC18 £3, £5, or £10 to 70070.

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