Project team member Sarah Johnsen from Heriot-Watt University reports from a recent event on homelessness held in Glasgow
Attempts to deter people from rough sleeping and begging have generated controversy in England, where measures such as assertive outreach, ‘defensive architecture’, Dispersal Orders, arrests, ASBOs, and most recently Public Spaces Protection Orders, have been widely used. Some stakeholders view such measures as invaluable tools lending weight to attempts to move vulnerable individuals away from damaging lifestyles. Others worry that they displace the problem and/or make the incredibly difficult circumstances of those affected even worse.
There is no sign that these debates will be resolved any time soon, in part because of the fundamentally different value positions from which people begin. Furthermore, myths and misunderstandings about rough sleepers and people who beg, and the options available to them, are rife. As a consequence, stakeholders often ‘talk past’ one another and intensify dissention, even though unintentionally.
If more constructive conversations about these sensitive issues are to be had, those on both sides of the debate need to better understand one another’s viewpoints. We must also all engage with existing evidence about the circumstances and motivations of the individuals targeted, and impacts of different interventions on them and the wider public.
In recognition of these issues, and in a context where increasing numbers of rough sleepers and/or people begging have been reported in some Scottish cities, Glasgow Homelessness Network and Crisis recently co-hosted an event that brought together stakeholders from a range of sectors, including homelessness, substance misuse, migration, community safety and policing.
The event focused on the opportunities, risks and quandaries associated with interventions that fall along the spectrum from: at one end, those that are highly interventionist and contain elements of force (e.g. ASBOs) and those which are staunchly non-interventionist and make little if any overt attempt to push for behaviour change (e.g. traditional soup runs and night shelters).
Drawing on evidence from the Welfare Conditionality: sanctions, support and behaviour change study and previous research, together with the first-hand experience of agencies working with street homeless people and individuals who beg in Scotland and England, the event aimed to begin a dialogue about the outcomes of different measures, and the practical and ethical dilemmas associated with their use. Participants were asked to consider what role, if any, interventionist approaches might have in Scotland, where few of the interventionist approaches adopted in England (and particularly London) have been pursued to date.