Locking People Up is not the Key to Solving Homelessness

Huggard-Richard-Edwards

Left, Richard Edwards of the Huggard Homeless Centre. Right top, Cardiff prison and beneath, Colin Capp

Huggard Centre boss Richard Edwards calls for support for those on the streets after the sentencing of Colin Capp for the murder of Darren Thomas

The head of a homelessness shelter says beggars need help rather than punishment after a man was killed in jail while serving time for pleading for handouts in Cardiff.

Head of the Huggard homelessness centre Richard Edwards made the comments in the wake of Colin Capp’s life sentence for murdering Darren Thomas.

Capp used a ballpoint pen to stab Thomas in the neck 100 times while he slept in their cell in Cardiff Prison in March 2014.
Is jail appropriate for beggars?

Thomas, 45, was inside for begging – he had breached an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) preventing him going into Cardiff city centre to plead for handouts.

Edwards said: “I don’t feel it’s appropriate (to jail the homeless). I think we need to be looking first at the levels of support we can offer people who are engaging in street culture activity.”

Before Thomas was earlier jailed in 2011 a court hearing was told he would approach people “at random”. But police said he targeted lone women on their way to work in the morning, who felt intimidated.

He had stayed at Cardiff’s Huggard shelter for the homeless between May and August of 2012.

Darren Thomas, 45 a prisoner who was discovered unconscious by guards at Cardiff prison and was declared dead 35 minutes later.
Prisoner Darren Thomas, 45, was found dead in his cell on March 6 last year

Edwards, who said using ASBOs against beggars can be appropriate provided help is also being offered, added: “While I’m aware that Darren was engaging in quite aggressive begging activities it’s unfortunate that in Darren’s case it had to result in imprisonment.”

Thomas had just started a 12-week sentence at the prison when he was attacked by Capp.

The 23-year-old killer, from Scotland, had suggested he was suffering paranoid schizophrenia, but a psychiatrist said he had a personality disorder and knew what he was doing.

Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens said Britain’s under-pressure prison system should be reserved for dangerous offenders.

Last year the Ministry of Justice was forced into trying to re-employ more than 2,000 prison officers who had recently taken voluntary redundancy.
‘Prison won’t help’

The Labour MP said: “Prison is not the sort of place that is going to help people like Darren. If he had been a threat to the public that may have been a reason for giving him a custodial sentence.

“He wasn’t safe out on the streets and clearly wasn’t safe inside prison.”

Last year following Thomas’ murder Shelter Cymru said jailing the destitute – who need help and often have mental health problems – is “expensive” and “pointless”.

Cardiff Retail Partnership, which represents the city’s businesses, has in the past lobbied police to clear the streets of beggars.

Before the Olympic Games in 2012, they urged police to use the then 188-year-old Vagrancy Act to rid the city’s streets of homeless people.

At the time, South Wales Police said dealing with the homeless was a priority because it was of concern to businesses and residents.
‘Remarkably callous’

They said a “number” of ASBOs had been placed on beggars – insisting they were used when all other attempts to help had failed.

But Shelter Cymru called the campaign “remarkably callous” and suggested it treated the homeless like “inconvenient rubbish to be cleared away”.

The poor were similarly targeted in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), before those cities hosted the Olympics.

In 2007, the UN-funded Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) concluded the Olympics, having evicted more then two million people over twenty years, were one of the top causes of displacement and house price inflation in the world.

The report showed the evictions disproportionately affect the homeless, the poor and ethnic minorities.

Following Capp’s conviction, Thomas’s family issued a statement saying he died in a place where he should have been safe.

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