UK

Rough sleepers 'urinated on' by public, survey finds

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Media captionCorky used to live on the streets, and slept on trains for safety

Rough sleepers have described being urinated on, having belongings stolen and being sexually assaulted while living on the streets.

Homeless charity Crisis said of 458 street sleepers it interviewed in England and Wales, 80% had suffered an attack or abuse in 2016.

More than half said they did not report crimes, as many believed that the police would not be able to help them.

The government has promised to support a bill aimed at tackling homelessness.

'Appalling and dehumanising'

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said the report exposed a "horrifying state of affairs".

"We knew it was dangerous on the streets already but the very scale of it is quite shocking," he told BBC News.

He said crimes like urinating on a person, which affected 7% of those surveyed, were "appalling and dehumanising" but that victims often felt too ashamed to go to the police.


'Kicked in the head'

Image copyright Sam Mellish

Gary, who has slept rough in Yorkshire, told Crisis he feared gangs of youths who would roam the streets in the early hours.

"Anyone sleeping in the shop door was done," he said. "They used to brick them or worse still - a couple of lads that were sleeping on the streets with me got knifed while they were asleep."

Being homeless was the only reason Simon, also interviewed by Crisis, was kicked in the head by a member of the public this year.

"He said, 'Are you homeless?' I said, 'Yeah' and he just kicked me in the head. I was sat on the floor reading my book."

Many of those interviewed said they had become reclusive in order to avoid violence.

Dan, from south-west England, said: "I stay by myself quite a lot. I don't want to get involved.

"It doesn't really do me any good mentally because I'm on my own, but I do find it's safer."


Six per cent of the street sleepers surveyed said they had been sexually assaulted in the past year.

"Police need to reassure homeless people their safety is paramount and they will investigate these crimes," Mr Sparkes said.

More than 250,000 people in England are homeless, according to charity Shelter.

On any one night in England last year, an average of 3,569 people slept rough, according to government figures, a 30% increase on the previous year.

Prevention

Recent estimates suggest there are some 8,000 homeless people in Wales,15,000 in Northern Ireland and 35,000 in Scotland.

Crisis expects to take in 4,000 people over the festive period at its Christmas centres in London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Coventry and Birmingham.

Volunteers provide hot meals, healthcare and advice on how to access housing, work and benefits.

But Mr Sparkes called on the government to do more to prevent people from losing their homes in the first place.

In January, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will be examined in detail by a House of Commons committee.

Bob Blackman MP, who introduced the bill, has said he hopes it will give people longer to seek help from their local authority.

He proposes councils intervene when someone is facing homelessness within 56 days' time, instead of 28 days as now.

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