Homeless hate crime question

Crisis says homeless don't report attacks

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The value of making violence against rough sleepers a hate crime has been questioned by a charity – which says homeless people often feel unable to report attacks to the authorities.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson has called on the Law Commission to consider making rough sleepers a protected category in a review of hate crime legislation due to begin next year.

The proposal was made in an open letter to home secretary Sajid Javid – and the mayor says he will also make a submission to the commission setting out his thinking.

Charity is unconvinced

But Crisis, whose research Anderson referenced in his letter, is unconvinced by the idea.

The charity found that more than one in three rough sleepers have been deliberately been hit, kicked or experienced some other form of violence; one in three have had things thrown at them; one in 10 have been urinated on; and six in 10 have been verbally abused or harassed.

It also found that 53 per cent of abuse and violence against rough sleepers goes unreported to police, mainly due to the expectation that nothing will be done.

Matt Downie, Crisis head of policy and external affairs, said: “People experiencing homelessness should not be defined by their homelessness – it is not a characteristic or a choice.

Serious risks

“But they are often some of the most vulnerable in our society who, our research shows, are far more likely to be victims of crime, including violent assault, abuse and intimidation.

“Changing the label of these appalling incidences of violence and abuse is not the answer. What matters most is that the victims of these disproportionately frequent attacks feel able to approach the authorities for support. Ultimately, they must also be given the dedicated help to leave the streets behind for good.”

Liverpool offers a range of services to address rough sleeping, from day and night shelter provision to free food, backed up with a range of ancillary services. As well as actively supporting rough sleepers, the council also spends £12 million a year on discretionary benefits to try to prevent people and families from becoming homeless.

In his letter to Javid, Anderson urged the government to take on board the serious risks faced by rough sleepers and to formally protect them in law.

He wrote: “As vulnerable people on the margins of society, we owe it to rough sleepers to do everything possible to protect them and assist them in turning their lives around… As Mayor of Liverpool, I am committed to doing everything in my power to help and protect rough sleepers and, although my city is famed for its generosity and solidarity, I believe the message should go out nationally that abusing or attacking a rough sleeper will never be tolerated.”

The mayor told Big Issue North that Liverpool City Council’s forthcoming hate crime strategy will make allowances to include rough sleepers as a specific category, but said this also needs to be incorporated into national guidelines to help prosecutors deal with those causing harm to rough sleepers.

He said: “We need to send out a clear unambiguous message as a society that rough sleepers are our fellow human beings and, as well as a duty to support them in lifting themselves up and turning their lives around, we also have a duty to keep them safe while they are out on the streets.

“One of the best ways of doing this, I believe, is to broaden hate crime legislation to include rough sleepers.”

The Law Commission is to complete a wide-ranging review into hate crime and consider if there should be additional protected characteristics such as misogyny and age.

Professor David Ormerod QC, law commissioner, said:“Our project will ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection for victims of crimes fuelled by hatred. It will include a review of which personal characteristics ought to have enhanced protection in the criminal justice system.”

Photo: Getty

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