Housing

Homeless Bill of Rights adopted by council in UK first

The Homeless Bill of Rights enshrines the right to housing, shelter and public space in city policy

The Homeless Bill of Rights has already been adopted by 45 European cities

The Homeless Bill of Rights has already been adopted by 45 European cities. "Homeless Rough Sleeper" by Deadly Sirius is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The pioneering Homeless Bill of Rights has been adopted in Brighton and Hove, the first UK city to put the initiative into action.

Councillors voted in favour of the bill, which recognises the rights of people experiencing homelessness, after a hard-fought campaign launched in 2018. It passed with 31 votes to 13, with seven abstentions.

“It’s not about giving the homeless extra rights,” said Jim Deans from Sussex Homeless Support. “It’s about giving them the same rights.”

It means the right to housing, the right to shelter and the right to public space – which means, for example, people experiencing homelessness should not be moved on from places such as parks and pavements – will all be enshrined in council policy. 

The vote saw councillors agree to take on the bill as “an aspirational document and as the standard against which the council and its partners judge its policies, practices and outcomes”.

“It has been a long journey,” said David Thomas, legal officer for Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition.

In 2018 the coalition joined forces with European organisation FEANTSA and human rights group Just Fair to lobby for the bill to be adopted in the city.

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“Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition are immensely proud that their City has chosen to adopt the Bill,” he added. “We all have the right to be treated with dignity and equality; we hope that the adoption and the commitment behind it means that right will become a reality for people even when they are desperate and homeless.”

The bill also protects the right to a postal address, to sanitary facilities, to emergency services and to respect for personal property, the latter of which is aimed to stop authorities removing tents or belongings “without compelling need”.

Councillors previously expressed concerns that the bill could encourage begging. But as councillors debated the bill before the successful vote, Labour’s Gill Williams reassured colleagues the bill was designed to ensure homeless people were not “automatically treated as a nuisance, a problem, a criminal, but treated with dignity and respect”.

FEANTSA first launched the bill in November 2017 and it has been adopted by 45 European cities since then, including Barcelona.

The Green and Labour parties included the bill in their 2019 local election manifestos, shortly before a public petition to rubber-stamp the bill amassed more than 2,600 signatures.

“I was privileged to speak at the launch of the Bill in autumn 2018 and have been aware ever since of the acclaim, both domestically and abroad, that this initiative has attracted,” said Just Fair’s Jamie Burton QC.

Campaigners and councillors should be “rightly proud of this fantastic achievement,” he added.

“You will be setting the standard that hopefully many other towns and cities will follow.”

A copy of the council’s agreement will be sent to FEANTSA as a symbol of the city’s commitment to the “international movement of solidarity with homeless people”.

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