PLANS to make squatting a criminal offence have been branded “absolutely appalling” by a Bournemouth homeless campaigner.

The proposal to criminalise squatting in England and Wales has been announced by David Cameron as part of his wider toughening of criminal justice measures.

John Coulston, a director at Michael House in Boscombe which provides emergency and longer term accommodation for homeless people, said: “This is diabolical; it is just going to add to the misery of these very vulnerable people.

“We are supposed to be a civilised country but this will make life even more difficult for rough sleepers who are already at the bottom of the pile.”

Leading charities are warning that the proposals risk dragging some of the country’s most vulnerable members of society through the justice system.

Crisis points out that almost 40 per cent of homeless people resort to squatting at some point and that of these more than half have been to prison. Twenty per cent are alcohol-dependent and more than a third have mental health problems.

Mr Coulston, who received a Papal medal for his work with the homeless, said: “With a bit of back luck, anyone can end up on the streets. What does the government want; them to die from exposure?”

Winton Salvation Army member Mary Randall, who received an MBE for her services to the homeless, takes a team of volunteers out on to the streets of Bournemouth every Monday night to provide 60 hot meals to rough sleepers, as well as clean clothing.

She told the Daily Echo: “This is desperately sad because these are the poorest people in Bournemouth and need help.

“There are people squatting here every night. This isn’t the way to treat them; we try and treat them with dignity. They are all hungry and easy to love.”