Housing

Rough sleepers 'forcibly removed' from tents outside London council headquarters: 'It's ridiculous'

People sleeping in tents outside Camden Council offices in London forced out of tents,grassroots homelessness outreach group Streets Kitchen claim, just months after viral incident that sparked Met Police apology

Camden rough sleeping incident

Rough sleepers had been camped outside Camden Council offices for months in bid to get support, Streets Kitchen said. Image: Streets Kitchen

A London council, which apologised after workers destroyed rough sleepers’ tents last year, is under the spotlight again for “forcibly removing” people from the doorstep of its own offices.

Streets Kitchen’s Elodie Berland told the Big Issue around eight or nine people who had been sleeping rough in tents outside the Camden Council offices at Pancras Square were displaced on Friday (31 May) afternoon to make way for building work.

The group had been sleeping rough outside the £123m council base, which opened in 2014, for a few months in a bid to get support, she added.

Berland also claimed one person had been arrested after being asked to move on from the area. The Metropolitan Police told the Big Issue they responded to “routine calls to police about a man being racially abusive”.

“At the moment we are just trying to locate the guys who have been moved on as well,” said Berland.

“We’ve left notes on the tents saying do not move. We spoke to security and said, ’You’re not moving those tents because they belong to people.’ We’re keeping an eye on the situation. That’s where we are at the moment.

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“It’s ridiculous, we knew it was going to happen. I’ve been interacting with the community protection officers over the last week because they have been coming down every morning, knocking on the doors and telling the guys. ’There is going to be some work going on, you’re going to have to move.’ It’s just always the same shit show.”

A spokesperson for Camden Council said everyone who had been moved out of the local area had been offered a place to stay – but admitted that housing shortages meant some have been offered spots outside the borough.

“This wasn’t a safe space for people to sleep so we have offered everyone a hotel, hostel or long-term accommodation. Support is there for everyone who wants it, and possessions remain on site and are safe,” the spokesperson said.

Camden rough sleeping incident
Tents were pulled away from the building and left in the middle of the street after rough sleepers left the area. Image: Streets Kitchen

“We will continue to work with all those impacted until they are housed. Sadly, it is not possible to house everyone facing homelessness in the borough due to housing shortages, so we understand that offers out of borough have been disappointing for some. We are dedicated to supporting rough sleepers and our teams will continue to provide the full range of services that we offer.”

Camden Council came under the spotlight last November when footage of rough sleepers’ tents and belongings being destroyed in the back of a refuse truck by local authority workers outside University College London Hospital went viral.

The incident, described as “unacceptable” by Camden Council’s Adam Harrison at the time, came just days after former home secretary Suella Braverman sparked fury over her comments that described street homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”.

Met Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley apologised for the part police officers played in the incident after Anthony Sinclair was arrested and locked up for six hours after refusing to leave the spot where he was sleeping rough.

He described his treatment as “inhuman” and received compensation and damages for his unlawful arrest following legal action from human rights lawyers Liberty.

Berland said Streets Kitchen and the council had been working to improve relations since the incident.

She added: “We have been talking to the council, we have been having regular meetings with them, especially since November. They have told us that they are not going to go on outreach with the police.”

Camden rough sleeping incident
Rough sleepers were moved on due to building work, Streets Kitchen said. Image: Streets Kitchen

The treatment of people experiencing street homelessness has also been a big issue since then.

The Conservative government’s attempts to crackdown on “nuisance rough sleeping” and “nuisance begging” attracted criticism from homelessness organisations and MPs.

The Criminal Justice Bill was intended to replace the 200-year-old Vagrancy Act but led to claims it went even further than archaic act’s criminalisation of rough sleeping.

The act was set to punish people for showing the intention to sleep rough or even for how they smell with the prospect of a £2,500 fine or even being sent to prison.

The Home Office later dropped the latter clause, insisting it related to “rubbish dumped or human waste” rather than rough sleepers themselves.

The bill’s passage into law ended when Rishi Sunak called a general election.

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