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Arrest us for crime of owning a tent, say homeless protesters

Demonstrations follow move to pull down camps in Camden Town and King's Cross

26 October, 2017 — By William McLennan

Protesters hand themselves in at Kentish Town police station

CAMPAIGNERS tried to hand themselves in at Kentish Town police station for the “crime of possession of tents” in protest over the removal of several makeshift camps that were being used by rough sleepers.

Members of Camden Homeless Solidarity, who recently squatted in the old carpet store in Kentish Town Road, turned up at the Holmes Road police station on Saturday carrying several tents and a placard reading: “Stop harassing homeless people”.

The group was responding to joint operations by police and Camden Council to remove tents from at least four sites across the borough in recent weeks. Authorities said they only dismantled the camps after attempts to engage with those living inside were turned down.

One of the group, Mark Smith, said: “Camden Council and the police are turning up at various locations and taking away people’s tents and leaving them utterly homeless. You can’t do that. You can’t deprive people of basic shelter.”

A council meeting last week heard that Camden Council had received complaints from a group of hotels in King’s Cross who had said customers had told them “this is great accommodation but I’m looking out at rough sleepers”. A council report on the rise in rough sleeping said: “Street-based services recently responded to a number of encampments on the Regent’s Canal towpath, which included tents and ‘bashes’ – temporary structures. This type of activity is on the increase across the borough and has a very negative impact on our communities, making them less safe.”

Inspector Richard Berns, who runs neighbourhood policing in Camden, criticised people who provide items, like sleeping bags, that “help the homeless stay homeless”. Recounting one case, he said: “Because he now has a nice new sleeping bag, he turned down help.”

Inspector Paul Clarke said that the Met “do not want to criminalise people for being homeless”, adding: “Our aim is to help the many vulnerable people who live on the streets by attempting engagement and offering diversion options as part of our partnership working agreement. Any enforcement action that is undertaken is only used when people refuse to engage and have refused diversion on at least two occasions.”

Councillor Nadia Shah, cabinet member for safer communities at Camden Council, said: “The Safer Streets Team works with a wide range of partners to ensure that people sleeping rough are offered the support and services they need to move off the street and rebuild their lives. “The partners also consider the use of enforcement options when services have been refused and there is a risk of harm to either the people sleeping rough or our communities.”

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