Great Britain

Jo Swinson face-to-face on election trail with the homeless in Whitechapel

Lib Dem leader faces homeless charit organisations on the general election trail in Whitechapel. Picture: Mike Brooke

Lib Dem leader faces homeless charit organisations on the general election trail in Whitechapel. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Scrapping the Vagrancy Act which "criminalises those on the streets" can end the homeless crisis, Lib Dem national leader Jo Swinson promised when she came face-to-face in Whitechapel today with men and women who have been on the streets.

Jo Swinson... Jo Swinson... "We will scrap the Vagrancy Act that criminalises people who find themselves homeless." Picture: Mike Brooke

She was the first national party leader answering a challenge from the Crisis charity for a round-table meeting at its Skylight centre with those who demand action if she gets the keys to No 10.

They included 34-year-old asylum-seeker Stella Bernard who was barred from getting work when she came to Britain as a teenager and found herself homeless for five years, unable to earn a living and nowhere to turn to.

"I was quite suicidal and felt I had no future," she told the Lib Dem leader.

Homeless Stella Bernard was barred from getting work... Homeless Stella Bernard was barred from getting work... "I was suicidal and felt I had no future." Picture: Mike Brooke

"I was really a mess—I couldn't move on with my life."

The charity gave her shelter and made it possible to take up English classes.

Stella, now a Crisis "ambassador", asked for a pledge to help those on the streets who are deemed not entitled to jobs or housing.

Crisis charity's chief execrtive Jon Sparkes listens as Jo Swinson promises a bill in Parliament to scrap the Vagrancy Act. Picture: Mike BrookeCrisis charity's chief execrtive Jon Sparkes listens as Jo Swinson promises a bill in Parliament to scrap the Vagrancy Act. Picture: Mike Brooke

Swinson told her: "Restrictions stopping asylum seekers working are ridiculous. People should be able to work after three months transition. The support period should be extended to make sure those in vulnerable groups get help in housing."

She used the meeting to call for scrapping the Vagrancy Act which "criminalised those finding themselves homeless."

It was an "outdated legislation" from 200 years ago she said was no longer fit for its purpose. Extended support for those on the streets or those facing potential homelessness was needed "to get people's lives back on track".

General election alliance of organisations like Crisis, Centrepoint, Shelter, Homeless Link, De Paul and St Mungo'’s in round-table meeting with the Dem leader. Picture: Mike BrookeGeneral election alliance of organisations like Crisis, Centrepoint, Shelter, Homeless Link, De Paul and St Mungo'’s in round-table meeting with the Dem leader. Picture: Mike Brooke

She told the meeting: "We have put forward a bill to scrap the Vagrancy Act. I am determined that we continue the fight to get rid of this outdated legislation after listening to your experiences."

The homeless crisis can be ended once and for all, the charity's chief executive Jon Sparkes told the Lib Dem leader. It would need committing to a major increase in social housing, a welfare system that covers rents and support for services that help people out of homelessness or prevents it in the first place.

The challenge to meet the homeless face-to-face is part of a general election alliance of organisations like Crisis, Centrepoint, Shelter, Homeless Link, De Paul and St Mungo's calling for political leaders to guarantee funding to help people off the streets quickly with "somewhere safe to stay".

It calls for £10billion investment over 10 years in addition to the funds needed to increase the housing supply.

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