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Gillingham Street Angels charity boss slams Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s plans to crackdown on homeless living in tents

A charity boss is enraged over the Home Secretary’s proposal to crack down on the use of tents by the homeless, saying for many it was a “lifestyle choice”.

Neil Charlick, who runs Gillingham Street Angels (GSA), has branded Suella Braverman’s remarks as “utter madness”.

Neil Charlick, chief executive of Gillingham Street Angels
Neil Charlick, chief executive of Gillingham Street Angels

He’s accused her of being out of touch with the problems facing rough sleepers.

Mr Charlick told KentOnline: “Does she not realise some people don’t have a choice?

“I get calls on a daily basis from people who for whatever reason have been kicked out of their home.

“And by far, they are not all alcoholics and drug addicts

“They just don’t wake on one day and say I’m not going to work, I’m going to take drugs and drink all day and live in a tent

“She needs to step out of her white castle and come to one of my soup kitchens and meet real people.”

A tent pitched up in the castle moat at Rochester
A tent pitched up in the castle moat at Rochester

Mr Charlick was responding after the minister’s plan to impose fines on homeless charities like GSA which operates across Medway, for handing out tents.

The Home Secretary said many who pitched up in public spaces were causing “nuisance and distress”.

Speaking ahead of a new bill to be unveiled in next week’s King’s Speech, she warned that the UK should not follow the US where “weak policies” triggered “crime drug-taking and squalor”.

Mr Charlick, who was himself once homeless, described his charity as “non-judgmental” and said they were careful who they handed out tents to.

Under fire - Home Secretary Suella Braverman
Under fire - Home Secretary Suella Braverman

He said: “We have to brush some cases aside, but we are not going to let somebody sleep in the street, in the snow and rain and let people pee on them.

“Until the housing crisis is sorted, we have no choice.”

He added that the hike in rent charges had made it more difficult for the homeless to get a permanent roof over their heads

“And on top of that they have to find a deposit and guarantor, which in many cases is just not possible and they can then get into a downhill spiral.”

Mr Charlick added that some people who had taken up temporary accommodation felt vulnerable.

He said: “If you are weak and are in a home with a load of addicts, you can get bullied and feel safer in a different environment.”

Suella Braverman's plan would introduce new penalties in England and Wales for homeless people who authorities believe have rejected offers of help.

The plan is expected to be included in the King's speech on Tuesday, which sets out the government's legislative agenda and is expected to focus heavily on law and order.

Ms Braverman said previously: "Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets. There are options for people who don't want to be sleeping rough."

She said the government would always support the homeless who are in genuine need, but added: "We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice."

Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal
Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal

Meanwhile, a Kent Conservative MP appeared to condemn her party colleague's comments by suggesting the emphasis should be on more suitable housing.

Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, posted on X this morning, formerly Twitter, saying: “In all my years of helping people who are homeless, in cities like London and Manchester as well as my own local area in Dover and Deal, at no time, ever, has anyone said the answer lies in the removal of tents.

“The answer lies in building more homes - especially affordable homes - and providing accommodation, including support for those with complex needs. That’s what my Operation Homemaker programme is all about.

The programme she refers to aims to build 100,000 extra homes for the most vulnerable over a year and a half.

She added: “Homelessness is complex and needs full support & specialist services. We should always be there to lend a helping hand to people most in need - to provide more housing, life chances and opportunities. That is what the future we seek to build should be all about.

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