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Homeless camps provide safety

Between 2014 and 2018, complaints about camps that were created by the homeless grew by 448%. They have been seen in several cities, including Brighton, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Manchester, and Northampton. In 2018, 254 tent cities were cleared.

Although the number of people rough sleeping reduced to 2,688 in 2020, 94% of local authorities are expecting a surge in homelessness following the Governments support being reduced post-lockdown.

Over the years homeless encampments have popped up in the form of tents, cardboard structures, and supermarket trolleys, with makeshift beds and blankets making them a home. When the communities are set up, they are faced with a lot of hate from residents, moved on, or prosecuted.

What is not always apparent to outsiders is that there are genuine reasons for the homeless to stay in groups in this way. One anthropologist found that people in homeless camps will create their community; they look out for each other and provide for one another. They share food, drink, clothing, cash, and if one of them gets ill, the others will bring them breakfast every morning. Cooking, cleaning, and caring, the hallmarks of a community, are apparent and important to the dwellers.

Is sleeping alone on the street safe?

Darren told Manchester Evening News that he and his partner were sleeping in doorways but were not safe, so they began staying at their camp.

Steve told the BBC that sleeping in a tent within a homeless camp provides safety as people cannot jump on you as easily. Taylor also said that knowing there are other tents near you means that you are less likely to get beaten up by drunk people coming out of nightclubs. He felt that you could leave your things inside while you go to the toilet or a shop and that the community will look after it for you.

Researchers from Crisis were told that being on the streets alone is too dangerous. He had to be alert at all times as he did not know if he would be burnt alive. In the homeless camps, they have each other.

Are hostels safe?

Paul told a journalist at The Mirror that he and his partner had chosen to stay in a camp because they had experienced staying in a hostel and felt it was dangerous. They stated that it was dirty, had used needles in showers, and people robbed each other. He also said that sleeping in doorways was even more dangerous. Steve also told the reporter that he got pickpocketed the first night in a hostel, and on the second, woken by a staff member slapping him hard after a night terror.

Connor told a reporter at Manchester Evening News that the people in his camp wanted to be on the streets because they get harassed in hostels.

What does being a part of a community mean for the safety of the homeless?

Two homeless men died after lighting a fire to keep warm in Manchester. A homeless man was set on fire by two men in Salford. Another man was set alight in Worthing. A further homeless man was shot and killed while in his tent in Kent.

Death or being physically set on fire are the extreme end of the abuse that homeless people face while on their own. According to the crisis report, 54% of female rough sleepers and 50% of men were theft victims. 51% had things stolen from them while asleep, 65% of women and 53% of men experienced verbal abuse.

What do local authorities say?

Councils work with the homeless people within camps to try and arrange accommodation. They will make them aware of the shelters and hostels that are available to them and offer temporary housing if available. If the person refuses an offer, however, they are deemed un-housable due to their own choice. One council told Cambridge news that rough sleepers have complex needs which prevent them from engaging. That homeless campers do not want to be in sheltered accommodation due to drug and alcohol use not being allowed on the premises or because they do not want to be separated from other rough sleepers.

What do the homeless say?

The people who set up camp communities however have a different story. According to a reporter for the Guardian, properties or shelters offered to the homeless have dreadful conditions. They are met with abuse, theft, fraud, and severe social conditions making the street a better option. Further to this, recovering addicts are sent to accommodations where drugs surround them, and vulnerable people are sent to violent placements.

Paul told the Big Issue that he stayed in a night shelter for eight months, and 18 people packed into the room. He told of drugs and alcohol being rife. Pat said that once you are in a hostel, you cannot afford to work and set up a life for yourself because the rent is more than £200 a week in some hostels. While not working, housing benefit pays this but once you start a job, you become liable.

Due to the dangers that face people who are homeless, it is unsurprising that they wish to stay together. To do this camps are set up and small communities are created, providing safety, company, and some form of stability.

Many of the people staying in these tents are not choosing to be on the streets but are choosing to be safe and for what appears to be a good reason.

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