A SENIOR council boss in charge of housing across Worcester has sparked outrage by calling homelessness "a lifestyle choice".

Nina Warrington, who is tasked with addressing rough sleepers at Worcester City Council, has infuriated campaigners by saying people on the streets choose to be there.

The comments, made in the aftermath of yesterday's 'yarnbombing' incident at the Guildhall which saw council officials remove scarves from Guildhall railings, have been described as "disgusting", "insensitive" and "crass".

Homelessness activists tied knitted garments to the Guildhall yesterday morning to draw attention to the plight.

But they were hurriedly removed by the council, which gave a variety of reasons for its actions including the wet weather and the campaigners not asking for permission first.

Bosses said the scarves should be donated to charities helping people off the streets like the Maggs Day Centre.

Ms Warrington then went onto BBC local radio to defend the authority's stance, saying the scarves are "actually supporting people" who choose to live that way.

She said: "This is actually supporting people in a lifestyle choice they have made.

"And our approach is to make sure those people come off the streets, not stay there.

"They (the scarves) will go to the agencies we work with and the charities we work with to make sure those homeless people will get those hats and scarves, and (they) will then be supported to come off the streets."

Homelessness campaigners have hit out at the comments and demanded an apology, calling it "hurtful".

Worcester MP Robin Walker has also said "perhaps she didn't use the right form of words".

Campaigner Hugo Sugg, 25, who lives near Shrub Hill after sleeping rough aged 18, said: "It's absolutely disgusting.

"She said people who are homeless are making a 'lifestyle choice' - all that does is reinforce negative stereotypes and send out the wrong message to people they are supposed to be helping.

"I find this really, really insensitive and crass and I want a full apology - when I became homeless it was not a choice.

"When I slept rough I could have stayed at a so-called 'friend's house' and been at risk of assault and abuse, I didn't want to so the streets were my safest option even though it's far from safe, 40 per cent of people who sleep rough get weed on.

"Anyone can become homeless. Anyone can suffer flooding, a fire, domestic abuse, relationship breakdown, lose their job.

"All these comments do is fuel negative stereotypes and take society backwards, it's not acceptable."

Mr Walker said: "I'm sure what Nina meant was, she wanted to create a situation where it's just a lifestyle choice.

"Perhaps she didn't use the right choice of words.

"But the key thing is everything the city council does in trying to prevent homelessness."

The scarves have now gone to the Maggs Day Centre, with the council denying that a Chinese delegation being in town was a factor for their removal.

Ms Warrington is the city council's service manager for strategic housing.


THE chief executive of St Paul's Hostel has admitted Ms Warrington's comments sound "harsh" - but said he understood what point she was trying to make.

Jonathan Sutton also told your Worcester News he thought the scarves were a "great gesture" but urged campaigners to contact him for ideas on how to help tackle homelessness.

"The phrase wasn't one I'd use myself," he said.

"Perhaps what she was trying to express is, for those who work in the field, on the frontline day-in-day-out, trying to help entrenched rough sleepers, when they are offered services like Swanswell (a drug and alcohol service), the Maggs Day Centre, St Paul's, the YMCA, GP surgeries and they choose not to accept them, that's a choice.

"I think that's all she was trying to say, we all find that frustrating.

"I'm not trying to defend her but what I would say is that it is frustrating when that happens.

"But the expression 'lifestyle choice', that you choose to be unhealthy and live on the streets, that's not the case."

He added: "The wider point is, it's great people are thinking about homelessness for Christmas but we've got 364 other days of the year where I think it can go out of people's consciousness.

"Between us and Maggs we've got 70 years experience, I'd be happy to talk to anyone on how they can help when it comes to things like this."

The city council today said it did not wish to expand on the interview, but pointed to a statement released yesterday detailing the work it does to tackle homelessness.

In the name of Ms Warrington, it said: "We work closely with charities such as St Paul’s Hostel to prevent homelessness and help people sleeping rough to get a roof over their heads again.

"That is why we have arranged for St Paul’s Hostel to collect these scarves and hats so that they can be given directly to the people who need them."

But the authority is facing flak from its own politicians today, with Labour group leader Councillor Adrian Gregson calling the removal operation "pathetic".