It’s worrying times for anyone involved in the fight to reduce and eliminate homelessness in the UK. For it seems the new Housing Minister has a history of less than enlightened views on how to tackle rising levels of homelessness.
As a London council chief back in 2004, Kit Malthouse – the new housing minister following May’s frantic reshuffle – supported and operated a zero-tolerance policy, with a mission to drive street homeless people out of well-to-do Westminster.
The zero-tolerance drive included alleged use of hoses, used by street cleaners once rough sleepers had vacated an area, as part of its attempt to clear homeless people from doorways.
We certainly instituted a policy of making life… more uncomfortable
Asked about his role in the policy four years later, by which time he was a deputy mayor under Boris Johnson, he said: “We certainly instituted a policy of making life – it sounds counterintuitive and cruel – more uncomfortable. That is absolutely right.”
Malthouse, now MP for North West Hampshire, described the council’s campaign of “positive and negative incentives” as an attempt to reduce begging in the area and direct more street homeless people towards shelters, hostels and council help.
“One of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street,” he said.
“There were, at the time, plenty, well-funded night shelters and night centres. The difficulty was getting rough sleepers into those centres so that they could be interacted with, their needs could be met.”
Malthouse also defended the council’s incentives to reduce begging in the area. “The idea that everyone begging is down on their luck is a fantasy,” he said at the time.
However, the charity Crisis was among those to take exception to Operation Loose Change, which was enacted by Westminster Council and the Met Police.
“All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good,” said its spokesperson. “The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people.”
Malthouse has previously been a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions, tasked with overseeing the rollout of Universal Credit. Here’s hoping he has more success in his new role. We will be watching.
Image: Alexander Baxevanis/Flickr