Upcoming project: 200 Years of Homelessness in London

April 28, 2018

 

“The [following persons] committing certain offences [will be] deemed rogues and vagabonds:


Every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon”

 

Vagrancy Act 1824

England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

www.legislation.gov.uk

 

Sections 3 and 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act made it a criminal offence to beg or sleep rough. Nearly two full centuries later it remains in force. In response to a petition to repeal the Vagrancy Act, the Government stated it “currently has no plans to make changes to the law”. If 200-year old legislation on vagabonds needs no further amendments, then to what extent have our views of rough sleeping and homelessness changed since 1824?

 

Four Walls will be hosting an online historical resource created by myself, Tressa Belesi, which will outline both similarities and differences in legislation, public opinions, and rough sleeping conditions since 1824. Time and time again, inquires into the causes and effects of homelessness consult “experts”, the majority of which have not experienced the effects of homelessness. This includes the recent Government backed advisory panel. 

 

This project will consult the expertise of rough sleepers. Their insights will be used to guide my research and will feature online as a part of the finished resource. I will be creating oral histories with 3 to 5 of the rough sleepers we help every week, who range in ethnicity, age, gender, and length of time spent sleeping on the streets. This will be done in attempt to learn more about what it means to be a rough sleeper today and question whether individual histories reveal larger, institutional patterns in the causes of homelessness. 

 

This is not only about how we can present history in an accessible and meaningful way, but also about sharing some of the stories we’ve been privileged enough to hear from rough sleepers every week. Four Walls believes that making the history of homelessness more accessible will work to dispel harmful stereotypes about what it means to be homeless and help improve our understanding of the condition today. The project will examine why homelessness persists, was has been and can be done to prevent people from being forced to live on the streets. 

 

Homelessness is not new phenomenon, but it feels like we have never learned how to interact with the idea of homelessness, let alone with those who live on the street. Last year, I delivered a presentation on Sir Luke Fildes’ painting, Applicants for Admission to a Causal Ward, in Royal Holloway’s Picture Gallery. Our founder Rebecca asked if it also made me feel uneasy that our relief efforts and ideas of homelessness are eerily similar to those of Victorian London. It does.  

 

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