Here's why banning rough sleeping doesn't solve the problem of homelessness

We've used this image before, but it never stops haunting us: rough sleeping in London in 2010. Image: Oli Scarff/Getty.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has announced a plan to ban sleeping rough in the city. Doyle did so last week amid significant pressure from both Victoria Police and the tabloid media.

When Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton called on the state government to extend police powers, Doyle at first seemed to reject the idea. But he later said he would propose a new bylaw to the city council.

Ashton claimed that the people living on Flinders Street are not really homeless, a suggestion echoed by Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi. They say new laws and powers are needed to “clean up the city”. Critics from the homelessness and community sectors argue this would effectively criminalise being homeless.

However, what exactly does this mean? And how would this differ from current strategies for governing homelessness in Melbourne?

My doctoral research, which examined how homelessness in regulated in Melbourne, found homelessness is already effectively criminalised and has been for some time.

Is being homeless a crime?

First, being homeless is not a criminal offence anywhere in Australia. If such a law were passed it would breach multiple long-standing legal principles. It would also breach various domestic and international charters and covenants on citizenship as well as human and civil rights.

Despite this, people experiencing homelessness, especially those who are highly visible, socially disruptive or who have complex needs, are frequently subject to systems of regulation and control that drag them into the criminal justice system.

For example, begging is outlawed in Victoria by the Summary Offences Act and carries a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment. While an individual is unlikely to be jailed for begging, they will likely receive a fine.

Unsurprisingly, people who engage in begging find it very difficult to pay these fines. When a person accrues enough of them, a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Challenging these fines accounts for the bulk of the work of specialist homeless legal services in Melbourne.

Beyond begging being outlawed, many other laws directly or indirectly target people experiencing homelessness. These include laws banning squeegeeing at traffic lights, camping in public space, drinking in public, being drunk and/or disorderly, using offensive language in public, besetting footpaths or entrances and indecent exposure.

For people experiencing homelessness, performing actions and behaviours that are necessary for survival frequently places them in breach of these laws. For example, going to the toilet may result in a charge of indecent exposure. Going to sleep may result in a charge of camping in or besetting public space.

Do these kinds of laws work?

In the past two decades many cities, states and countries have introduced new ways of regulating the homeless, particularly in the UK and US. The use of hostile architecture, for example, appears to be increasing.

Such strategies essentially bypass legal frameworks by embedding the “move-on power” into the architecture of public space itself. This leaves homeless people with fewer places to be. And it often renders them increasingly visible and thus more exposed to intervention by municipal officials or police.

Some US cities have passed laws banning all kinds of behaviours that the homeless may engage in and enforce these selectively. Some have even banned giving food to the homeless. This has led to police arresting and charging members of local churches and charity groups. In the most egregious examples, some cities round up anyone suspected of being homeless, pack them into buses and dump them in the hinterlands of another municipality.

Have these actions reduced rates of homelessness? No. Such laws may decrease the visibility of homelessness in some areas, but bans are ineffective when used against populations that have nowhere else to go.


What other options are there?

Where does or should responsibility for the homeless lie?

Justifying such laws are claims, like Ashton’s and Panahi’s, that these people have been offered accommodation and refused, revealing their homelessness as voluntary.

However, interpreting the choice to turn down temporary stop-gaps and band-aids in this way misses something crucial. If a person refuses temporary accommodation in order to demand more stable and supported accommodation, it is because they know such short-term solutions are not solutions at all.

Temporary housing simply results in people churning in and out of desperate situations. We must understand housing as being defined by its stability and relative permanence. Offering someone a month or two of accommodation is not the same as offering them housing.

Questions of who should take responsibility for the homeless inevitably arise from these situations. The most common answer to these questions are shouts of “Not me!” However, given the criminal justice systems — police, courts and corrections — are publicly funded institutions, choosing to criminalise these behaviours is choosing to take responsibility for those who perform them.

Importantly, research has shown that dealing with homelessness through punitive means is actually far more expensive than strategies that supply affordable housing and supported accommodation.

So whether we choose to help or punish, we are choosing to take responsibility for and invest resources in this persistent social problem. Why don’t we choose the option that is not only cheaper but kinder as well?The Conversation

James Petty is a researcher in criminology at the University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, and was co-published with Pursuit. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

12 things we learned by reading every single National Rail timetable

Some departure boards, yesterday. Image: flickr.com/photos/joshtechfission/ CC-BY-SA

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked CityMetric’s editor about the longest possible UK train journey where the stations are all in progressive alphabetical order. Various people made suggestions, but I was intrigued as to what that definitive answer was. Helpfully, National Rail provides a 3,717 page document containing every single timetable in the country, so I got reading!

(Well, actually I let my computer read the raw data in a file provided by ATOC, the Association of Train Operating Companies. Apparently this ‘requires a good level of computer skills’, so I guess I can put that on my CV now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1) The record for stops in progressive alphabetical order within a single journey is: 10

The winner is the weekday 7.42am Arriva Trains Wales service from Bridgend to Aberdare, which stops at the following stations in sequence:

  • Barry, Barry Docks, Cadoxton, Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest

The second longest sequence possible – 8 – overlaps with this. It’s the 22:46pm from Cardiff Central to Treherbert, although at present it’s only scheduled to run from 9-12 April, so you’d better book now to avoid the rush. 

  • Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Cathays, Llandaf, Radyr, Taffs Well, Trefforest, Trehafod

Not quite sure what you’ll actually be able to do when you get to Trehafod at half eleven. Maybe the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park could arrange a special late night event to celebrate.

Just one of the things that you probably won't be able to see in Trehafod. Image: Wikimedia/FruitMonkey.

There are 15 possible runs of 7 stations. They include:

  • Berwick Upon Tweed, Dunbar, Edinburgh, Haymarket, Inverkeithing, Kirkcaldy, Leuchars
  • Bidston, Birkenhead North, Birkenhead Park, Conway Park, Hamilton Square, James Street, Moorfields
  • Bedford, Flitwick, Harlington, Leagrave, Luton, St Albans City, St Pancras International

There is a chance for a bit of CONTROVERSY with the last one, as you could argue that the final station is actually called London St Pancras. But St Pancras International the ATOC data calls it, so if you disagree you should ring them up and shout very loudly about it, I bet they love it when stuff like that happens.

Alphabetical train journeys not exciting enough for you?

2) The longest sequence of stations with alliterative names: 5

There are two ways to do this:

  • Ladywell, Lewisham, London Bridge, London Waterloo (East), London Charing Cross – a sequence which is the end/beginning of a couple of routes in South East London.
  • Mills Hill, Moston, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Piccadilly – from the middle of the Leeds-Manchester Airport route.

There are 20 ways to get a sequence of 4, and 117 for a sequence of 3, but there are no train stations in the UK beginning with Z so shut up you at the back there.

3) The longest sequence of stations with names of increasing length: 7

Two of these:

  • York, Leeds, Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Manchester Victoria, Manchester Oxford Road
  • Lewes, Glynde, Berwick, Polegate, Eastbourne, Hampden Park, Pevensey & Westham

4) The greatest number of stations you can stop at without changing trains: 50

On a veeeeery slow service that calls at every stop between Crewe and Cardiff Central over the course of 6hr20. Faster, albeit less comprehensive, trains are available.

But if you’re looking for a really long journey, that’s got nothing on:

5) The longest journey you can take on a single National Rail service: 13 hours and 58 minutes.

A sleeper service that leaves Inverness at 7.17pm, and arrives at London Euston at 9.15am the next morning. Curiously, the ATOC data appears to claim that it stops at Wembley European Freight Operations Centre, though sadly the National Rail website makes no mention of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

6) The shortest journey you can take on a National Rail service without getting off en route: 2 minutes.

Starting at Wrexham Central, and taking you all the way to Wrexham General, this service is in place for a few days in the last week of March.

7) The shortest complete journey as the crow flies: 0 miles

Because the origin station is the same as the terminating station, i.e. the journey is on a loop.

8) The longest unbroken journey as the crow flies: 505 miles

Taking you all the way from Aberdeen to Penzance – although opportunities to make it have become rarer. The only direct service in the current timetable departs at 8.20am on Saturday 24 March. It stops at 46 stations and takes 13 hours 20 minutes. Thankfully, a trolley service is available.

9) The shortest station names on the network have just 3 letters

Ash, Ayr, Ely, Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, and Wye.

There’s also I.B.M., serving an industrial site formerly owned by the tech firm, but the ATOC data includes those full stops so it's not quite as short. Compute that, Deep Blue, you chess twat.

10) The longest station name has 33 letters excluding spaces

Okay, I cheated on this and Googled it – the ATOC data only has space for 26 characters. But for completeness’ sake: it’s Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, with 33 letters.

No, I’m not counting that other, more infamous Welsh one, because it’s listed in the database as Llanfairpwll, which is what it is actually called.

 

This sign is a lie. Image: Cyberinsekt.

11) The highest platform number on the National Rail network is 22

Well, the highest platform number at which anything is currently scheduled to stop at, at least.

12) if yoU gAze lOng into an abYss the abySs alSo gazEs into yOu

Image: author's own.

“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”, said Thomas.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

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