Many rough sleepers “choose to be on the streets” to fund drug and alcohol addiction, a Tory MP has said.
During a Commons debate on the issue, Tory backbencher Adam Holloway said treating homelessness as a health issue, allowing drug and alcohol to be used in shelters and improving mental health care would go some way to tackling the problem.
The Gravesham MP spent time on the streets in 1991 and again in 2018 to learn more about the problems faced by those sleeping rough.
He told MPs about meeting an alcoholic on the streets in London called Andy, who claimed he had a flat to go home to if he wanted to.
Mr Holloway said: “Andy was drinking, I don’t know, probably 30 cans of beer a day.
“But Andy wasn’t actually homeless.
“Andy had a flat, he in fact showed me the keys to his flat.
“But Andy was living at Westminster for two reasons.
“He was lonely in his flat in North London and how on earth is an alcoholic going to generate enough money to buy beer if not from begging on the streets?
“I didn’t meet him, but a friend of mine reported that a guy who had been a heroin addict in Covent Garden for many years who had his leg cut off eventually.
“And this guy absolutely maintains, and this is my experience too, that if the public were not so generous and didn’t enable people to buy the heroin and buy the alcohol then he would have got off the streets an awful, awful lot earlier.
“The reality is that many people choose to be on the streets.”
This caused Labour MPs to shout out in disagreement.
Mr Holloway continued: “Before you stand up in outrage, there’s a reason for this.
“If you’re like Andy and you’re addicted to a drug, you have a problem, you need money.
“You do not get money from begging if you are sleeping on the floor in one of the Government’s No Second Night Out hostels.
“You don’t get money to buy heroin if you’re sitting in your council flat, you get it by being out on the streets.”
He added: “We are not going to deal with rough sleeping unless we see it as a health problem.
“So we need to be honest about this.
“When you give cash to a beggar, not in every case, but in the vast majority of cases, you are buying heroin or you are buying alcohol or you’re buying zombie Spice.
“So we’ve got to stop giving money to beggars.
“We’ve got to have wet accommodation for people where they can take drugs and continue to drink.
“We’ve got to have emergency psychiatric assessments.”