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Our letter to the Home Secretary about “lifestyle choice” comments

To: Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP, Home Secretary,

2 Marsham Street,

London,

SW1P 4DF.


Ref: Rough sleepers and “lifestyle choice” comment.


Dear Suella Braverman,


In response to your public comments about rough sleepers and restricting tents, the Cardon Banfield Foundation would like to outline our position.


It is without a doubt that the number of tents in which rough sleepers are residing has increased in the last few years. This is down to rising costs, mental health, worklessness, poor accommodation and personal relationship breakdowns, exacerbated largely by the pandemic aftermath.


The Foundation is clear in its belief that this type of living is not acceptable and homelessness should be kept to the minimum all year round, whatever the circumstances.


The phrase “lifestyle choice”, which you used in a public statement on X (formerly Twitter), has provoked a severe public and sector reaction. Whilst there is some merit to this reaction, we believe that this is not a black and white situation and should not be treated as such in public discourse.


We know some people do make a choice to be homeless. They make a decision in their head about whether going back to their previous living situation is going to be beneficial or whether they need to start afresh but do not have the resources to. In these circumstances, sleeping rough may be the only option open to them and may be preferable to remaining in their present housing situation.

Our Chief Executive has spoken candidly about his choice at 18 after- splitting from an abusive ex-partner- to either go back to his parent’s home where alcoholism and bullying was present or whether this could be avoided by staying in the city he had relocated to and, using his words, “moving forward” with his life. He, like many others, made a choice based on the circumstances he was facing. This choice is one many people make every day.


Even with this in mind, we do agree that the phrase “lifestyle choice” doesn’t give nuance to an issue that most people are not fully aware of and therefore we ask you to make an apology based on your phrasing. The “choice” made by some of those who find themselves sleeping rough is truly between two or more “bad” options and does not represent a situation in which a perfect choice can be made. It is simply a reflection of the trade-offs which many face.


Some commentary by charities online has pointed towards tents as a life-saver for people who are rough sleeping, however, we do not fully agree with this statement. Without appropriate support from organisations like the Local Authority and charities, rough sleepers in tents are left in a very high risk environment with the possibility of dying in their tent.


Our namesake, Cardon Banfield, was found in a tent in Worcester 3 months after the decommissioning of a twice-daily outreach service. The gap in service provision meant that no one knew where Cardon was or how to support him, so the tent is where he was left to decompose.


Whilst tents provide shelter, they are not a solution to rough sleeping and homelessness and we urge the Government to re-prioritise this issue as soon as possible so that more suitable and sustainable housing solutions may be found.


The Foundation wanted to make its position clear because we recognise that context is important. We urge you to apologise for the phrase “lifestyle choice”, but we do look forward to hearing a rationale similar to the one we have addressed here.


Cardon Banfield Foundation supports measures for reducing homelessness and rough sleeping.


Yours Sincerely,

Ian Stephenson, Chair of Trustees

Hugo Sugg, Chief Executive Officer

Sophie Rieckmann, Director of Policy and Research

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