Providence Row charity urges Lords not to criminalise rough sleepers

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 February 2012 | UPDATED: 17:42 15 February 2012

At least 1,000 people have been sleeping rough on the streets of London’s East End over the past 12 months, according to a homeless charity’s findings.

The oldest organisation caring for the East End’s homeless is urging the House of Lords not to criminalise squatting in today’s Reading on proposed changes to the law.

Squatters in residential properties face a £5,000 fine or a year in prison under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill now going through Parliament.

The bill, if it became law, would penalise those who have to shelter in disused buildings, according to the Providence Row charity that has been caring for the destitute since the 1860s.

More than 1,000 people who turned up at the charity’s Dellow day care centre in Wentworth Street, Whitechapel, last year said they had resorted to squatting as an alternative to sleeping on the streets.

“Squatting is not a lifestyle choice,” the charity’s chief executive Pam Orchard warned.

“These properties are not luxury apartments taken over when the residents are on holiday.

“They are often dangerously derelict buildings which have been condemned as unfit for human inhabitation.

“Squatters tell us about the lack of running water and electricity, sometimes no toilets.”

Supported housing rather than just accommodation itself is the answer, the charity urges, to get the homeless back into mainstream society.

“We need to remove the barriers these people face—not impose more,” Ms Orchard added. “We need to help them into safe housing and eventually into work.”

A cohesive approach was needed between public sector and voluntary homelessness services, she urges, so squatters can move into more sustainable accommodation and get help with the life problems they face.

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