Homeless people urinated on, sexually assaulted, and beaten by members of public, survey finds

'While others are enjoying the comfort of family and friends, homeless people face a daily struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold,' says charity

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The Independent Online

People sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence than members of the general public, a new report has found.

Homeless people describe being hit, kicked, urinated on, and sexually assaulted while living on the street, according to the research from homelessness charity Crisis.

A survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers in England and Wales found almost eight out of 10 had experienced violence or abuse in the past year, and the offence was usually committed by a member of the public, not by another homeless person.

Christmas is a particularly difficult time to be homeless, the charity said, in addition to the cold, many people feel lonelier and more unhappy to be sleeping rough at this time of year.

Around 66 per cent of those surveyed also said they felt life on the street was getting worse in general.  

Gary, a homeless man identified in the report by his first name only, said it was dispiriting to be viewed by people who do not know you as "the lowest level".

He said he had personally been assaulted, and had witnessed other rough sleepers seriously injured by members of the public.

“Gangs of young kids, you know about five or six of them [used to] come around on the night time, two am in the morning," he said, "anyone sleeping in the shop door was done. They used to brick them or worse still. You know a couple of lads that were sleeping on the streets with me got knifed while they were asleep.”

A total of 35 per cent of homeless people had been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence while street sleeping, Crisis found. One in 10 had been urinated on, and more than one in 20 (seven per cent) had been sexually assaulted.

Almost half had been intimidated or threatened with violence.

Jeremy, another homeless man interviewed by the charity, told researchers he had been beaten up just a fortnight before they spoke to him, by a group of people who had also burned his bedding.

“I was in my sleeping bag because it comes around up over the shoulders, do you know what I mean?" he said. "And three of them, and I was sleeping, they came over and started jumping on me, kicking me like."

Some homeless people said they were ignored when they reported being assaulted to the police.

A man called Ian said nobody was around when he was assaulted, but he made sure he told officers about the incident the next day. 

"They did nothing at all about it," he said. "Whereas if it was someone else, I know for a fact they would have taken a statement, or taken details off me, but the police didn’t want to know nothing about me.”

Another rough sleeper, identified only as Simon, said: "I’m not anti-police and I do talk to the police. But they don’t give you the time because you’re homeless I think. You don’t get the support as you, if you have like a house.” 

The report found that being homeless and experiencing violence took a serious toll on people's mental health, even leading some to consider suicide. 

One interviewee, Dan, said he knew several people who had deliberately overdosed because they could no longer bear being homeless.

"As I say, you know, I’ve almost done it myself," he told the charity. "But yeah I do, I do find a lot of people think they’re you know, being ignored or forgotten about and that – that is the way it feels, you know?” 

Crisis is currently campaigning for measures to be put in place to stop people becoming homeless to begin with.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, now going through parliament, would help to make sure homeless people can get support at an early stage, ideally before they lose their home, the charity said.

“For anyone sleeping on the street, life can be a struggle just to survive," said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis. "As our research shows, rough sleepers are far more likely to be victims of crime, including violent assault, abuse and intimidation, compared to the general public. This is a horrifying state of affairs and shows why we need to prevent people ending up in this situation in the first place.

“Yet we also need to make sure people can get help all year round, ideally before they become homeless in the first place. The Homelessness Reduction Bill currently making its way through parliament aims to make sure people facing homelessness can get support when they need it, and we urge the public to help by calling on their MP to back this crucial bill.”  

He added: “Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for homeless people. While others are enjoying the comfort of family and friends, homeless people face a daily struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold."

Crisis runs Christmas centres for thousands of homeless people, providing them with safety, warmth, and food, as well as access to vital services.  

The centres, staffed by more than 10,000 volunteers, offer guests healthcare and specialist advice on housing, work, and benefits.

“None of this work would be possible without the generosity and compassion of thousands of individuals, organisations and companies, who give their time, funds and goods to make Christmas happen for some of society’s most vulnerable people," Mr Sparkes said.