Why don’t we just… treat the homeless humanely?

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The experience of Liverpool’s homeless people at the hands of Chief Superintendent Mark Wiggins and his unique approach to policing is raising more than a few eyebrows.

The law enforcement supremo’s scheme allowing officers to issue on-the-spot yellow and red cards to homeless people adjudged to be engaged in “antisocial behaviour” may prove controversial.

A yellow card warns that continued antisocial behaviour could result in a temporary exclusion from the city centre or arrest. A red card means that action is to be taken following previous warnings.

The initiative, backed by the city’s council, Business Improvement District company and some in Merseyside’s business community will, claims Wiggins, ensure homeless people move on with their lives by seeking support elsewhere. The cards provide information on how to seek help.

But some fear Wiggins’ street purge will mark out unresponsive homeless people for punishment.

Liam Moore, director of social justice choir Voice in the City, told the I newspaper: “The issue is where will it stop. Does it open the floodgates to intimidation? Anyone who commits antisocial behaviour should be prosecuted, but we need solutions.

“Each person on the street is an individual and has their own story. Handing out a red card like the football referee Howard Webb doesn’t solve people’s problems.”

Wiggins’ headline-grabbing two-strikes-and-you’re-out strategy will open up police to charges of pandering to genteel society’s prejudices and revulsion at the sight of the dispossessed. There’s an implied threat in his statement: “If some individuals don’t take offers of support and continue to commit antisocial behaviour, then as a partnership we can take further action.”

What form this “further action” takes remains unclear. Spare a thought too for homeless outreach organisations operating on a shoestring slapped with an extra layer of red and yellow-flavoured bureaucracy to sink their teeth into. They must be tickled pink.

The colour of money bankrolling homeless Liverpudlians’ next meal overrides any colour-coding police top brass may impose. As for the volatile hardcore, far from curbing antisocial behaviour the opposite may prove the case. Cards stacked against them and dealt a hand-to-mouth existence punctuated by drug and alcohol problems with only a cardboard mattress to their name – what have they left to lose?

That Merseyside has more than its share of homeless people is not in dispute. How this issue is addressed as humanely as possible is another matter.

Francis McMenamin is a former magazine editor and a regular contributor to publications. 

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