Out of Sight: Regulation, Social Control and the Criminalisation of Homelessness

26/07/2016  -  3.18

Kate Moss - Professor of Criminal Justice

Despite charitable support and awareness-raising, homelessness is still being criminalised in many areas.

The clearance of tents used by homeless people in Milton Keynes sparked strong feelings from the public. Professor Kate Moss argues for a humane approach to the problem, rather than a policy-based reaction.

A recent meeting at Milton Keynes Civic Offices heard strong representations from residents concerning the council’s current policy of clearing tents belonging to the homeless, or placing eviction notices on them - despite these tents being issued by charities and organisations trying to help homeless people across the city.

This approach to tackling the problem of homelessness is unfortunately all too common. The situation in Milton Keynes is simply the latest example of a policy approach which we are increasingly seeing throughout the UK.

From extensive research into the issue of homelessness that we have carried out over the past six years across the EU, we know that the reaction of Milton Keynes councillors to this criticism is also familiar.

Most often justified on the basis of balancing the needs of the wider community, this approach is more often than not driven by individual complaints from those who think people living in a tent near them is a problem.

The criminalisation of homeless individuals is poor public policy for several reasons.

Adoption of laws and policies that punish homeless people rather than addressing the problems that cause homelessness is an ineffective approach.

Penalising people for engaging in innocent behaviour – such as sleeping in public or sitting on the sidewalk– will not reduce the occurrence of these activities or keep homeless people out of public spaces when they have no alternative place to sleep or sit, or no other means of subsistence.

With insufficient resources for shelter and services for homeless people, imposing punishment for unavoidable activities is not only futile, it is inhumane.

Punitive approaches to homelessness will not work. Local policymakers must recognise the distinction between intolerance of homeless people and intolerance of the manifestations of the problem of homelessness.

Ultimately, the cycle of homelessness will only be broken when policies actually address the causes and effectively move people into housing.


Professor Kate Moss is a professor of Criminal Justice. She has conducted extensive research into social problems such as intimate partner violence, the evaluation of specialist domestic violence courts and women and children rough sleepers.