Housing and Restorative Justice
Last week Why me? and the Crown Prosecution Service presented at an event chaired by Birmingham City University academic Kusminder Chahal on Housing and Place Based Responses to Hate Crime. The event was held at the Race Equality Foundation in London.
Disputes between neighbours are common, complex and can make home an unbearable place. As a result more and more housing providers and police services are turning to Restorative Justice to resolve these situations.
Why use Restorative Justice in housing?
Firstly the criminal justice system isn’t always a good fit for these types of disputes. Most housing incidents involve antisocial behaviour, and most antisocial behaviour is dealt with outside of the courts. Another issue is the problem of finding willing witnesses when people can be wary of speaking out against a neighbour. There can also be problems with finding enough evidence to prosecute, especially if the dispute is the result of many small incidents over time. Restorative Justice can sidestep these issues and offer support to those who are currently left without legal recourse.
Restorative Justice can also resolve conflicts without moving people from their homes. Many people who are involved in disputes want the harm to stop, but they do not want to be uprooted from where they live. In some places, such as psychiatric settings or children’s homes, people may not easily be able to leave their homes either. Restorative Justice can help to address these issues as well as reduce the amount of police input with these often vulnerable groups.
For housing disputes involving hate crime, Restorative Justice may have even more to offer. Hate crime can often be treated by the law as a specific singular incident, however this kind of ‘static’ idea of hate crime fails to understand the often repeated and complex nature of this type of harm. In the housing context, where disputes often involve long patterns of harm on both sides, Restorative Justice is able to take context into consideration and offer a more holistic approach.
Internationally there have been some interesting developments in the use of Restorative Justice in the area of housing. In Canada, for example Restorative Justice Housing Ontario is fighting for safe and sustainable housing for people leaving prison, to enable them to begin the journey of addressing the harm they have caused without the worries of finding a home. There has been another creative interpretation of restorative principles in Brazil, where social housing movements are reclaiming empty properties to open up possibilities for face to face meetings with institutions that are causing the homelessness crisis there.
It is deeply important that housing agencies are enabled to set up referral routes with Restorative Justice services and that housing staff have the opportunity to be trained in Restorative Justice themselves. Doing so can make the difference between living in an unhappy and insecure environment and a safe and happy home.