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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

People in supported housing often victims of crime

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Burcu Borysik with new Revolving Doors Agency peer research on how homeless people are often the victims of crime - even when no longer sleeping rough.

Yesterday (1 July 2019) Revolving Doors Agency published a new peer research study on repeat victimisation among people who moved from the streets into supported accommodation in London

The report is timely as violent attacks on rough sleepers are increasingly covered by the media, and the Law Commission is being asked to expand the definition of “protected categories” so that the police systematically record crime committed against people who are sleeping rough.

Yet, little is known to date about people’s experiences of crime and victimisation once they move in supported housing. This report addresses this gap and unravels barriers and enablers for people who moved from the streets into supported accommodation to report crime and access support.

The report makes for difficult reading. RDA found people who moved from the streets into supported accommodation continue to be targeted because of their experiences with mental ill-health, substance abuse or simply appearing ‘vulnerable’ or ‘homeless’. Many felt ashamed, distressed and isolated in the aftermath of the crime.

Many simply did not report crimes committed against them or seek support as victims because they feared they would be labelled as ‘homeless’, ‘addicts’, or ‘ex-offenders’ and dismissed by the criminal justice agencies, including services for victims.

Key findings

Peer researchers undertook 26 face-to-face interviews with people who had been sleeping rough but then moved into supported accommodation. Here are some of the key findings:

Victimisation when sleeping rough

 
25 out of 26 participants had been a victim of crime since they began sleeping rough. Victimisation is not only more prevalent and frequent, but also far more serious among people sleeping rough. 15 people talked about their experiences of being physically assaulted, including being deliberately hit, kicked, strangled on the streets; and
8 about being held at gun or knife point. Three men and one woman talked about their direct experiences of being sexually assaulted. Multiple experiences of victimisation were common with daily intimidation when sleeping rough the norm:

“I don’t know why, there seems to be a certain factor out there that, you know, seems to lead to those sorts of people being verbally attacked or abused, you know, any sort of thing like that is abuse. I’ve had cans thrown at me, I’ve been spat at, I’ve been kicked in, I’ve been punched. You’ve sort of got to deal with it on a daily basis.”

Participants expressed that the prevalence and frequency of crime on the streets created a cycle of sleeping rough and repeated victimisation, each night sleeping rough increasing the risk of being a victim of violence, and each violent attack increasing their likelihood to remain on the streets. 

Victimisation in supported accommodation

Findings from this research make for difficult reading. A significant majority of people who have been victims of crime on the streets continued to be victimised even after they had a roof over their heads. Since moving into supported accommodation, over three quarters of people had experienced or witnessed crime and felt intimidated at least once. Nearly half had experienced physical assault. Five participants had been held at gun or knife point and two people were sexually assaulted.

Reflecting on the prevalence of a wide range of crimes in and around the supported accommodation, many participants came to accept it as “just what happens” or a “part of life.” History of social relationships, experiences of
violence and danger, self-defence, segregation between ‘rough sleepers’ and the public not only fuelled the crime, but also normalised criminal activity. 

“Your behaviour on the street continues, and if not more so, because you’re in a group where you know each other, you come to each other. So, it becomes okay to behave in a certain way, it’s justified to a degree.”

Normalisation of criminal activity among people who moved from streets into supported accommodation explains why the criminal activities and victimisation remain hidden and neglected, despite the harmful impact on their lives. ‘Invisibility’ was identified by the participants as the core reason why victimisation continues to happen in supported accommodation:

“You see, the problem, doesn’t just stop because a person comes from the street to the hostel, they’ve still got those problems, so those problems still exist in this environment. Unfortunately, it’s probably less seen here, because you’re behind four walls.”

Participants said that the high level of support needs, including mental ill health, substance misuse and histories of offending put people at greater risk of victimisation. Participants said socialising among residents was often
difficult and “mixing with the wrong crowd” put them at greater risk of being caught in the cycle of victimisation and criminal activity.

Recommendations

The multifaceted nature of problems identified in this research means that no one agency or organisation can resolve these issues on their own. Revolvign Doors Agency says that an effective response will require working across organisations and sectors to deliver a coordinated response to tackle repeat victimisation of current and recent rough sleepers. This is an area that requires the strategic leadership of local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners (the Mayors) and the Victims’ Commissioner as well as changes to operational practice across police, supported accommodation, outreach services, health services and victim support services. RDA sets out five key principles for all victims to access fair justice:
  1. Trauma informed support can encourage individuals to come forward as victims, and help them access fair justice, and thereby stop the vicious cycle of homelessness, victimisation and offending.
  2. Peer support models in housing and criminal justice will help victims disclose crime and get support.
  3. Commissioners and policy makers need to listen the voices of people with lived experience to reduce victimisation.
  4. Services need to make available information on homeless people’s rights and entitlements to report crime and receive support as a victim of crime.
  5. Much more needs to be done to share good practice around this issue.

Conclusion

While all the data collection took place in London, the problems highlighted in this report are endemic. People with histories of homelessness, mental ill-health, substance abuse and offending are repeatedly victims of serious and repeated crime. We need to urgently take action, as each day we waste, access to fair justice is delayed.

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