Rosie Downes is Campaigns Manager at Crisis, the national homelessness charity. Crisis works directly with thousands of homeless people every year, providing vital help so that people can rebuild their lives and are supported out of homelessness for good. It also campaigns for the changes needed to end homelessness. Crisis and Housing Justice, along with over 20 other organisations, are campaigning to scrap the Vagrancy Act in England and Wales.

In November 2017, Kevin Bigg, who was rough sleeping in Carlisle was arrested after a child threw £2 into his sleeping bag. He was fined £100 for begging, even though he hadn’t asked for the money.

Kevin is just one of many people who’ve been criminalised for sleeping rough under the Vagrancy Act. The Vagrancy Act dates back to 1824, and makes it a crime to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales. It’s still used to this day by the vast majority of police forces across England and Wales. In the 1980s, the punishment of imprisonment for vagrancy was removed, but today, the Vagrancy Act can still carry fines of up to £1,000 and leave those convicted under it with a two year criminal record.

The Vagrancy Act 1824 is the only piece of legislation that criminalises the act of rough sleeping itself. But it does nothing to help resolve and tackle the causes of homelessness. In fact, it’s far more likely to prevent someone from accessing vital services that support them to move away from the streets.

“When I found out about them … arresting people for sort of like vagrancy or whatever I learnt to sleep as far out of the city centre as possible.… Some of the places I’ve slept in were terrible, you know what I mean. But at least I knew the police wouldn’t come and you wouldn’t get arrested.… I slept under bridges and all sorts.” Person sleeping rough in Leeds, 2007

In August 2018, the UK Government published its rough sleeping strategy, which commits to reviewing homelessness and rough sleeping legislation, including the Vagrancy Act. The Government plans to start the review of the Vagrancy Act very soon - so now is a crucial time for us all to come together and make the case for repeal.

When organisations work together powerful change can result. Crisis, is working in partnership with Centrepoint, St Mungo’s, Homeless Link, Shelter Cymru, Cymorth Cymru and The Wallich. The support of Housing Justice is invaluable, along with that of other organisations including the Frontline Network, St Basil’s, Connection at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, the Howard League for Penal Reform, Cardinal Hume, Emmaus, Porchlight and Pathway.  Together we are calling for the Vagrancy Act to be scrapped. If you’d like to add your voice, join the campaign at www.crisis.org.uk/ScraptheAct. Together, we can make sure nobody is criminalised for being homeless.