A former homeless man has described tents as a “lifeline” rather than a lifestyle choice for rough sleepers as he invited Suella Braverman to walk the streets with him to see the harsh realities some people are faced with.
Chris Royston said the Home Secretary’s claim that rough sleeping is sometimes a “lifestyle choice” had left him feeling “hurt”, “misunderstood” and “stigmatised”.
The 45-year-old spent six months sleeping rough in Sheffield in 2015 while holding down a supermarket job and said his tent was his only defence against the extreme weather at the time.
He said the Government does not appear to have the “want” to tackle rough sleeping and its underlying causes, accusing it instead of seeking a “political score”.
He told the PA news agency: “I do not believe that the Government is in touch with society. Homelessness can touch anyone at any given time.
“The only solution is to bring people indoors like they did through the pandemic. The Government have proven that they’re able to do it if they want to do it.
“It comes down to ‘want’ from the Government and I don’t believe that they actually want to resolve this. They want to demonise and stigmatise and blame individuals who have fallen on difficult times, and make their lives more difficult.”
In September, the Kerslake Commission, formed in 2021 to look at the lessons from the emergency response which supported people sleeping rough during the pandemic, concluded the Government will not meet its own target to end rough sleeping by next year.
I would kindly invite Suella Braverman to Sheffield, or I could come to London, and walk around Sheffield or walk around London and have an open discussion on how it actually feels to be homeless
The organisation said the failure would come as the country faces a housing and affordability crisis which is pushing more people onto the streets, and as pressure on public services results in a lack of early support to help prevention.
Mr Royston, who said he became homeless after a sudden death in his family, later got help from housing and homeless charity Shelter, and now lives in a bungalow.
He challenged Ms Braverman to sit out “in the cold and the wind”, and have a discussion the next day on whether it was “valuable” to take someone’s tent away.
Of a tent, he said: “It’s a lifeline. It’s giving the homeless person the defences to defend themselves against the elements.”
He added: “I would kindly invite Suella Braverman to Sheffield, or I could come to London, and walk around Sheffield or walk around London and have an open discussion on how it actually feels to be homeless, and to walk the streets with someone who’s experienced homelessness – not just looking for a political score.
“That’s where I feel the Government is coming from. I feel like they’re looking for political scores to blame organisations and blame homeless people for the situations that they found themselves in.”
Polly Neate, Shelter chief executive, said: ”The Government promised to end rough sleeping, but is falling short of the mark.
“Not only should everyone facing the streets be given somewhere safe to stay without question, but the Government must also end the cruel freeze on housing benefit and deliver a new generation of affordable social homes.”