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City move-ons - responses

May 22 2009
The water tankers move in... Photographer: Jill Clark The water tankers move in... Photographer: Jill Clark
There is a definite policy amongst City of London police to constantly harass rough sleepers, a reader tells us

Readers respond to The City feels Operation Poncho

Dear Sir,

In the early hours of [date removed by request of correspondent], whilst sleeping on a bench behind St Paul's Cathedral, I was woken at about 4am by a City of London police officer. I won't mention his shoulder-flash number as he was both sympathetic and helpful and made it abundantly clear that he was "only obeying orders", presumably because otherwise he would have been either shot at dawn by firing squad or posted to the Eastern Front. However, during our brief conversation, he made it abundantly clear that there is a definite policy amongst City of London police to constantly harass rough sleepers in the area "until they [we] get pissed off and go somewhere else" (his words, not mine, quoted verbatim).

This strikes me as somewhat unusual, to say the least, since most rough sleepers in the area are located in The Strand which, if memory serves, is part of the borough of Westminster, not in the City of London. In fact, in my experience, there are virtually no rough sleepers anywhere in the Square Mile precisely because of this kind of petty police harassment. Still, you can't blame them.

After all, we wouldn't want homeless British citizens scaring away the rich Japanese tourists and German bankers now, would we?

Full name supplied and withheld, along with some details of the letter, when the author heard of the arrests in the City

Dear Sir,

On Sunday the 25th May, which was the Bank Holiday weekend, a serious item on homelessness featured on the BBC news in the evening, which I found disturbing. The news report was about allegations of abuse and intimidation of those who sleep rough in the City of London by those who clean the streets.

No one doubts that it is the duty of the civic authorities to ensure that our streets are maintained and cleaned to a reasonable standard. However, it is not acceptable for those at the bottom of the pile to be targeted, woken up deliberately and told to make themselves scarce, whilst the area where day were sleeping is soaked with water and other chemicals. Someone within the Corporation of London must have given the nod without considering the consequences. I also understand that the authorities have stated in no uncertain terms that they would not be complicit with such cruelty.

My main criticism is directed at the chief executive of a voluntary sector organisation, Broadway, which, I understand, is based in the Shepherd's Bush area. His remarks in a pre-recorded message for the BBC news were deeply offensive and chilling to those who are homeless, and to those who are genuinely concerned for their welfare. It is not appropriate for a representative of a voluntary sector agency, which receives donations from the public as well as taxpayers' cash, to appear on television and say: "the homeless bring their urinations around the streets with them" [Howard Sinclair was quoted on the BBC website as saying: "Unfortunately there are community issues around what they bring in terms of some urination and some belongings that they have"]. Local authorities don't need this sort of endorsement, and it is very wrong for those who make their fortunes on the back of exclusion and homelessness to speak in such terms.

As we all know, members of the public who have homes to go to also urinate in the street. Clearly, if the facilities are available, they should be used by all of us. I would strongly urge Mr Sinclair of the Broadway homelessness organisation to think carefully before he speaks in public again; such comments could actually put people at risk and, moreover, lead to a breakdown in trust between those at the bottom of the pile and the voluntary sector itself. I would be obliged if this letter can be forwarded to the chair of Broadway's Board of Trustees.

Public Servant


This letter was forwarded to Broadway, and we had assurance that it will be shown to the chair of trustees.

We received this reply from Mr Sinclair:

In terms of the specific issues, the two quotes in the letter are in turn wrong and taken out of context. I can only apologize for any offence that the comments attributed to me may have caused. Everyone involved with Broadway is committed to ending street homelessness: we do not believe it is acceptable that anyone in the 21st century should have to sleep on the streets.

We are clear that giving money, food or support to people sleeping rough on the streets in a way that supports or maintains this way of living ultimately causes people harm and is short term. We are also clear that people sleeping on the street are at risk and some people have immediate issues related to their general welfare, health and wellbeing that do need to be addressed.

The issues highlighted both by the letter and the coverage in
The Pavement raise concerns about the current approach of the main agencies involved: the City of London Corporation, the Police and the Safer City Partnership and Broadway. Just to be clear the roles of the three agencies are: 1. Broadway has specific responsibility to support individuals off the street by providing advice and assistance in accessing accommodation and other services 2. The City of London are responsible for street cleansing which needs to be completed outside of busy hours – they are taking a more thorough approach than previously. This means cleaning areas even if they are sleeping sites. It is practice to wake anyone who is sleeping rough and inform them of the cleaning, giving them sufficient time to allow them to move their belongings. 3. The Police are involved in 'street welfare checks' and have increased their contact with the client group.

The combined efforts of the partnership do form a more intensive approach than rough sleepers have previously experienced in the City, but is coupled with the active offer of support and assistance to come off the streets from Broadway. While this is understandably difficult for some people, we hope that it will mean that people who sleep rough really question their preference or need to stay on the street. Broadway's sole role within the partnership is to do what we do best – to help people take the first step from street to home. That we have already found new housing options for 29 people is the most important of the range of positive outcomes we have achieved with and for people who otherwise would be sleeping rough in the City. I would ask anyone who sleeps rough in the City, who receives Broadway services to contact either myself or the Team if they have concerns about the services we provide (020 7089 9500 or

Howard Sinclair

Chief Executive, Broadway


I sleep rough, alone, here-and-there, in out of the way places. I take care not to leave any trace. As I'm not a gathering of two or more people, if I sleep in private woodland for a night, do I have any rights not to get chucked off? Can the police make me leave? And can the owner use reasonable force to evict me? I really hope you can help. Thanks!



Dear Sir,

I have seen and heard that the move-on policy still takes place, especially at the time of the count. What puzzles me is this: is it actually legal? So, here's a story.

Once upon a time there was a man called Brian, who decided to he didn't like the war in Iraq and wanted to demonstrate. So he decided to pitch a tent across from Parliament and protested. Now, the police did not like this and tried to have him removed and in the meantime, he was joined by others. But it seems that they could not move him on and he was left there. The government was not happy and decided he and the others who had joined him had to go, but in the end even the government could not move him on. It seems it had something to do with his basic human rights.

So what about our human rights or don't the homeless have any? Brian is still there with several others, so what is the difference between Brian and his friends and we, the homeless? If they can't move him, how can they move us? Someone, please explain.

Ian Wells

Dear Al and Ian,

The simple answer is we don't know. Yet. We'll try to get you answers for the September issue (the first after a summer break), and we are talking to a solicitor who'll try to find answers for you both. The answer is likely to be a complicated one, and also one likely to change in the next few years. I'm sorry to say, having spoken to several homeless industry insiders, that it's more likely in future that rough sleepers will be targeted by police for arrest, not only in the run-up to the Olympics, but as special powers are granted in a tougher approach to outreach work.

However, we hope to have answers on the legal status of rough sleepers in the next issue.