My letter to Nick Alston, Essex PCC
February 14, 2014 4 Comments
I have written to Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, following an article in the Yellow Advertiser. Here is what I have written:
I am a little unsettled by a report in this week’s Southend Yellow Advertiser, which quotes PC Martin Knight. (All vagrants are either ‘druggies or alcoholics’)
Firstly I must put it on record that I consider the Police I encounter in my role as a Southend-on-Sea Borough councillor do an excellent job in difficult circumstances.
I take exception to this report, which seeks to label the homeless as all causing anti-social behaviour and crime.
The quotes in the article are some way from the reality I have seen. All rough sleepers do not have substance abuse issues, although I accept that many do. Whilst some choose the streets live on, the vast majority are there not through choice.
In my experience, albeit limited (and I do defer to experts, like Shelter) there are many reasons for homelessness. Some are poor, some lose their jobs, some are evicted from their homes. Divorce and separation figure amongst the reasons people are forced to sleep rough, as do mental health issues. Some are escaping abuse. It is a far from simple picture, and the glib explanation that all who are vagrant “choose to live on the streets and take drugs and drink alcohol” is misleading. It is also harmful.
Some of the homeless acquire substance issues because of being homeless – it is a symptom of their homelessness rather than the reason. Many rough sleepers encounter violence and articles like this, in my opinion, help legitimise this.
I do receive complaints from residents about begging and anti-social behaviour caused by some in the homeless community, and the Southend Police do a good job in dealing with this. I take a zero-tolerance approach to this. But to label all who are ‘vagrant’ in the way described by PC Knight is plain wrong.
I hope you will be able to tell me that the article misquotes Essex Police. I hope you can also assure me that the Police in Southend will continue to do the fine job in treating the homeless with respect that all deserve. Homelessness is a growing issue, and we should be looking for solutions rather than stigmatising the most vulnerable in our community.