‘Sweeping’ the Homeless

Communal homeless encampments ‘officially’ arrived in Britain in April 2015. Flimsy, multi-coloured tents, clustered sporadically across the major north-western city of Manchester: A stark, uncomfortable reminder that not everyone who resides here is able to go home to a warm bedxi.

Whilst seeking possession orders and a city centre-wide injunction prohibiting tents from being erected, Manchester City Council estimated that it spent more than £100,000 on additional policing, security and legal costs in the emotive three-month period to between April and July of 2015xii. Despite this concerted effort to clear homeless people from public areas, variations of Manchester’s original ‘Tent City’ – as well as other homelessness protest groups - still exist today, albeit in new and interchangeable locationsxiii vix xv. This is no longer a problem reserved exclusively for Manchester, but one which is challenging towns and cities all over the United Kingdom and the rest of the worldxvi.

‘Sweeping’ – a process where temporary homeless encampments are cleared of all items, possessions and belongings – is a 21st Century homelessness response technique which is now commonly used in conjunction with the criminalisation of activities relating to vagrancyxvii. The controversial use of enforcement towards those who sleep rough could be seen as such, due to its highly provocative nature: It is a fundamental fact that single homeless people are much more likely to have physical and mental health issues when compared to members of the general population - and therefore could be deemed as ‘at risk’ in some way.

The important link between housing and mental well-being is often overlooked: Poor mental health can make it harder to cope with housing problems, whilst being homeless or suffering domestic issues can make mental health worse. Official statistics show that in 2015, 32% of single homeless people reported a mental health problemxviii, while 70% of clients accessing homelessness services in England were reported to have ‘mental health needs’xix.

The reality is considerably more acute: Depression rates, for example, are reported to be over 10 times higher for the homeless population when compared with that of the general community, and other psychological issues such as historical abuse, complex trauma, substance misuse and social exclusion are routinely encounteredxx.

Wouldn’t you feel anxious and depressed if you had to choose between sleeping in a bin or on a cold, concrete floor each night? If you were regularly mocked, beaten, or urinated on? If your only possessions were regularly stolen, or removed by the authorities; if you had to beg a stranger just to eat?

We are facing a system in utter denial. Hidden homelessness in the United Kingdom surpassed crisis-point some fifteen years ago and despite the fact the problem was identified, it was ignored. When it became visible, immediate measures were put in place to ensure further distance from accountability. Why?

Sweeping the homeless, rough sleeping in Manchester. Photographer: Matthew Taylor
2014: Rough sleeping in Manchester. Image by Matthew Taylor

Homelessness – the state of having no home – cannot be addressed or resolved for any household or individual without affording the provision of suitable, permanent - and potentially - sustainable accommodation. Quite simply, both local and central government are unable to meet the continually rising demand for affordable, tenable homes - and so, our traditional approach to homelessness blocks access to long-term social housing options, for almost all who legitimately require them.

Each year, tens of thousands of people apply to their governing local authority for homelessness and housing advice or assistance, yet the vast majority fail to meet the strict conditions required in order to achieve a legal ‘statutory homeless’ status, which carries a duty to receive assistance - and the potential of being rehoused.


xi. https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/manchesters-homeless-protest-camp-banned-9761876
xii. https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/bill-manchester-homelessness-protest-exceeds-9534300
xiii. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-35376052
xiv. http://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3792/glasgow-homeless-camp-protest-will-fight-council-eviction (Web version unavailable) New link found: https://sourcenews.scot/glasgow-homeless-camp-protest-will-fight-council-eviction/
xv. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/03/leeds-homelessness-protesters-fight-legal-bid-to-evict-tent-city
xvi. https://placesjournal.org/article/tent-city-america/
xvii. https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/workmen-pictured-removing-tents-sleeping-11836830
xviii. https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Full%20report%20-
%20Single%20homelessness%20support%20in%20England%202015.pdf (Web version unavailable) New link found: https://homeless.org.uk/what-we-do/research/annual-review-of-single-homelessness-support/
xix. https://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/health-and-dependancies.html
xx. https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/news/2014/jul/09/twice-as-likely-to-be-ill-if-homeless (Web version unavailable) New link found: https://homeless.org.uk/knowledge-hub/unhealthy-state-of-homelessness-2022-findings-from-the-homeless-health-needs-audit/

Copyright © by Amy.F.Varle, January 2018.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.

The views and opinions expressed in this report and its content are those of the author and not of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which has no responsibility or liability for any part of the report.



When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram