Brighton and Hove City Council yesterday adopted the Homeless Bill of Rights.
In an hour-long debate which was not without some drama and debate, the bill passed 31 votes for, 13 against and 7 councillors abstained.
David Thomas Legal Officer for Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition was due to lead a disputation and answer some of the concerns being raised by a small minority of councillors locally. This did not take place due to a large number of deputations and the time limit for these to be heard reached.
David Thomas Said “
Mr Mayor, councillors, I am very proud to be here on behalf of Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition to support and urge the adoption of the Homeless Bill of Rights. It has been a long journey from October 2018 when the campaign was launched by us in conjunction with FEANTSA and Just Fair, and not long after both the Green party and the Labour party committed to it in their manifestos for the 2019 election. At this point, with the Bill already firmly at the heart of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy adopted last year, this is in some ways just the final step.
I’d like to thank the hard work of all the housing chairs since the election who have worked towards this, Councillors John Allcock, Gill Williams, and especially Councillors David Gibson and SiriolHugh-Jones who bring the report before you with the support of Councillor Gill Williams. I’d also like to thank all the officers and lawyers who have worked hard to make this happen.
We were disappointed to read an opinion piece by Councillor Mary Mears in the papers a few days ago in which she indicated serious reservations. It was a surprise, as she was very supportive of the petition that we brought to full Council in September 2019. But we have a lot of respect for Councillor Mears, so I will try to address some of her concerns.
She is worried about begging, and refers to Andy Winter’s view that this is related to drugs rather than homelessness, and to incidents of aggressive begging; she implies that the Bill will encourage this and states that it puts the council in collision with the police. However, the Bill does not in any way endorse aggressive begging or anti-social behaviour.
What it does say is that if a person who is homeless has to beg for reasons of survival, they should not be criminalized. Criminalizing homeless people is pointless and cruel and stigmatizes them. If instead of making them criminals, we treat people who are homeless as people with dignity and rights, the outcome is likely to be much better for them and us.
There is no collision with the police; the Bill explicitly acknowledges that it works within the existing law. That law is the ancient Vagrancy Act 1824 from Regency times, which makes rough sleeping as well as begging into crimes. The Bill commits the Council to no more than supporting the campaign led by Shelter, St Mungos, Crisis and many other homelessness charities to repeal that Act. Aggressive begging and harassment of course will remain against the law.
She is also concerned about tents, and that the Bill encourages these. Article 12 asks that the belongings of rough sleepers, including tents, be respected, and not be removed without compelling need. This is just to say that the belongings of a homeless person are entitled to the same respect and protection as everyone else’s. Surely that is just common decency.
But above all this document does not encourage or endorse homelessness; on the contrary, it commits the council afresh to ending it. Article I is the human right to a home. Homelessness is always wrong. But so far as there are people in our city that have no home, the Bill says that they should not be and will not be discriminated against for that reason alone. It says that if and when people are driven into rough sleeping, they will not automatically be treated as if they are a nuisance, a problem, or drug-users, sources of anti-social behaviour, or criminals; but that instead they will be treated as people, equal in rights and dignity with the rest of us. It is a reminder and challenge to us all to treat our fellow citizens with respect and courtesy and to do what we can to help those of us who are trapped in this desperate situation.
In its commitment to ending homelessness the Bill chimes well with the amazing work that this Council has done for homeless people, since the beginning of the pandemic with the Everyone In policy, and with the work in the future after covid that this ambitious report sets out. No one should be forced to sleep rough, and so far as in its power this City is committed to making that true. That is the true spirit of the Homeless Bill of Rights.
I will end with a quote from Jamie Burton QC, the chair of our partner organisation Just Fair: “I was privileged to speak at the launch of the Bill in autumn 2018 and have been aware ever since of the acclaim, both domestically and abroad, that this initiative has attracted. I very much hope that the Bill is adopted and that you and your colleagues on the Council are rightly proud of this fantastic achievement. You will be setting the standard that hopefully many other towns and cities will follow.”
How Did Your Councillor Vote?
Allcock – For, Appich – Abstain, Atkinson – Abstain,. Bagaeen – Against, Barnett – Against, Bell- Against, Brennan – For, Brown – Against, Childs – For, Clare – For, Davis – For, Deane – For, Druitt – For, Gibson – For, Grimshaw – For, Ebel – For, Evans – For, Fishleigh – Abstain, Fowler – Not present, Hamilton – Abstain, Heley – For, Henry – Abstain, Hill – Not present, Hills – For, Hugh-Jones – For, Janio – Against, Knight – For, Lewry – Against, Littman – For, Lloyd – For, MacCafferty – For, McNair – Against, Mears – Against, Miller – Not present, Moonan – Abstain, Nemeth – Against, Nield – For, O’Quinn – Abstain, Osborne – For, Peltzer Dunn – Agains, Phillips – For, Pissaridou – For, Powell – For, Platts – For, Rainey- For, Robins- For, Shanks – For, Simson – Against, Theobald – Against, Wares – Not Present, Wilkinson – For, Williams – For, West – For, Yates – For