Rough sleepers to be offered stab-proof coats that turn into sleeping bags


Robert Booth, Social Affairs correspondent, the Guardian
Katie Fitz, of Red Dragon, with stab-proof coats being modelled in Clydach, south Wales. Photograph: Dimitri Legakis/The Guardian


Rough sleepers are to be offered stab-proof coats that turn into sleeping bags to keep them safe from attacks, amid evidence of growing violence against people living on Britain’s streets.

The garments are made of non-flammable, slash-proof material and can be fitted with internal stab-proof panels. They are being trialled and could be rolled out initially in south Wales.

The coats cost £700 each and will be donated to those in need. They are being developed by Red Dragon, a social enterprise in Swansea that employs formerly homeless people and ex-offenders mostly to make flags, and Llamau, a a homelessness charity in Cardiff.

Don’t make criminals of homeless peopleRead moreLast month a 17-year-old boy and four young men were jailed in Derby for stabbing and kicking a homeless man and and shooting him with a BB gun, and in Coventry the possessions of homeless people in a city centre car park were set alight. In January in Coventry, attackers poured lighter fluid over the hands of a rough sleeper and set it alight, causing severe burns.

Merseyside police have said violence against homeless people has more than doubled in five years, with actual bodily harm, common assault and grievous bodily harm the most common offences.

Jo Ashburner Farr, the chief executive of Red Dragon, said the bottom of the coat rolled out to provide a sleeping bag and it allowed wearers to withstand temperatures down to -30C. “The aim is that it is waterproof, fire-proof and pierce proof,” she said.

Frances Beecher, the chief executive of Llamau, said: “Anybody who is wearing the roof coat is as safe as possible. But this is a stopgap and must lead to getting the person into a safer environment, which is off the street.”

Last year there were steep rises in street sleeping in London, Birmingham and Manchester, which charities attributed to welfare cuts, rising rents and shortages of affordable homes. There were 1,283 rough sleepers in London alone, a 13% increase, according to official figures published last month.

The data for England as a whole, based on estimates after a single night’s snapshot in the autumn, disclosed that 4,677 people bedded down on the streets or in sheds and tents in 2018, up 165% from 2010. It is estimated that 597 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2017 and a total of 2,627 died in the five years from 2014.

Ashburner Farr said she wanted to raise corporate donations to fund the heavy-duty coats. They would then be given to rough sleepers who wanted to use them, and those rough sleepers would also be supported back into work and housing.

“It could be that local authorities or organisations that work with rough sleepers have them and give them out to people that need them,” she said. 

Robert Booth, the Guardian, 24/03/2019