LONDON – Housing Justice last night handed out dozens of human rights guides to homeless people in London as part of a longer-term campaign to stop local councils from moving them on.
The Rights Guide for Rough Sleepers clears up legal gray areas like stop and search, arrests, dispersal zones and urinating in public.
The pocket-sized booklets are laminated and printed bright yellow so that they do not dissolve in the rain and can be read in dim lighting. The back pages include space for notes so that owners can record details of encounters with the authorities.
They are the brainchild of Housing Justice's London Coordinator Sally Leigh. She said local councils were turning to increasingly severe enforcement measures, such as prolonged interrogation and the use of high pressure water jets to force rough sleepers off the streets. She said the booklets would help homeless people know their legal position.
"I'm really worried about increasing enforcement around homeless people. People are so easily broken and it is so difficult to mend people," she said. "Now the information people need can be easily accessed on the streets."
Leigh urged the church to get behind the booklet and help fund more projects to protect the human rights of homeless people, including an investigation from a human rights perspective into Operation Poncho – the City of London's strategy to force homeless people into seeking help that includes drenching their sleeping areas.
"I believe everyone is made in the image of God and they deserve to be valued," she continued. "We believe in respect and giving people security and trying to build people up, not trying to bully, force or push people aside."
One former rough sleeper who did not wish to be identified said the guide had come too late for him as he had already received an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) for not moving on from his bedding spot in front of a church. He has mounted a legal challenge with the help of homelessness groups to have the ASBO overturned.
"It's an absolutely brilliant initiative," he said. "It looks small and flimsy but I only wish I had had it the morning I was woken up and given my ASBO."
The booklets have been developed in partnership with Liberty, the London Church Leaders Group, The Pavement magazine for the homeless, The Salvation Army, the Simon Community, Women at the Well and Zacchaeus 2000. The charities are planning to work on translations of the booklet into other languages.