Hundreds of homeless people in court for rough sleeping across West Midlands
More than 700 homeless people have been dragged before courts in the West Midlands over the last four years for rough sleeping, it has been revealed.
New figures show the region has the second highest rate in the country when it comes to enforcing a centuries’ old law which bans vagrancy.
Across the West Midlands 739 people were arrested and charged under the legislation – the second highest outside London – according to figures revealed following a Freedom of Information request.
It comes as the Lib Dems called for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act, which dates back to the time of King George IV.
Since 2014 in England and Wales, 7,688 people have been taken to court for being homeless.
A total of 2,278 people were arrested by the Metropolitan Police, 520 by Greater Manchester Police, 448 in Northumbria and 689 by Merseyside Police.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has now called on the Prime Minister Theresa May to consign the ‘heartless, Dickensian law to the history books’.
“It is appalling that thousands of people every year are being arrested using an archaic and outdated law designed to deal with the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, rather than the realities of homelessness in the 21st century,” she said.
“People being forced to sleep on the streets need our help and support – not to be dragged before the courts under a heartless law dating back to 1824 just because they don’t have anywhere to sleep at night.”
Homelessness has become a critical issue across the region, with the number of people sleeping rough rising in recent years.
In Wolverhampton the number of people seeking help with accommodation rose from 1,326 in 2015/16 to 1,700 in 2016/17.
On an average night in 2017 there were 23 people sleeping on the city’s streets, figures showed.
Nick Machnik-Foster, a Lib Dem campaigner in the Black Country, has called on local councils to do more to tackle the crisis.
He said: “We have a homelessness crisis on the streets of our region.
“Recently, we saw temperatures well below freezing and snow coming down. This has to be one of the most unforgiving times to be homeless in the Black Country.
“Labour-run councils need to do so much more to tackle this crisis.”