England: Council drops threat to fine rough sleepers

hackney_8042198Hackney Council has amended an order that threatened rough sleepers with court action and fines of up to £1,000 following a campaign by homelessness groups and local people who said it risked criminalising vulnerable people.

The local authority’s public space protection order (PSPO) introduced by the council at the end of April meant rough sleepers in some areas of the east London borough could be issued with a £100 fixed penalty notice or be taken to court and fined.

PSPOs were introduced in 2014 to give councils more powers to tackle anti-social behaviour. So far councils have primarily used them to target street drinking, but other activities including busking and taking legal highs in public have also been considered for inclusion.

Hackney Council said the move followed months of work by police and council officers to deal with persistent rough sleepers and anti-social behaviour.

However, homelessness charities and local campaigners spoke out against the order, which they said would criminalise vulnerable people and could mean they miss out on services intended to help them.

A petition against the inclusion of rough sleepers under the PSPO attracted more than 80,000 signatures in its first week, and the campaign received celebrity support from the musician Ellie Goulding.

Now the council has removed references to ‘rough sleepers’ from the PSPO so that it more clearly reflects the anti-social behaviour the Order is targeting and the course of action that could be taken.

Cllr Sophie Linden, deputy mayor, Hackney Council said the council will continue to tackle anti-social behaviour in the area through a combination of support and enforcement and will continue to work with the homeless charity Thames Reach to try to help vulnerable people off the street in this small area of Hackney.

Deputy Mayor Linden said: “People were understandably concerned by inaccurate headlines, despite the Council making it clear that this Order was not about targeting homeless people. Nor was it the Council’s response to homelessness. Anyone sleeping rough in Hackney is always offered a bed and the support and help they need. The Order was never intended to punish people who have fallen on hard times, been evicted and found themselves without a roof over their heads.

“It was designed to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour in the area and nudge a handful of people who have resisted all attempts to help them off the street and out of a life of addiction. Working with street beggars, street drinkers and entrenched rough sleepers who have refused help and support is vital in both helping them and resolving unacceptable behaviour which is having a real impact on residents, businesses and visitors. Enforcement was always going to be the last resort. The point of the order was to push people into treatment, and if necessary we would seek injunctions rather than fines. We have decided to remove the reference from the Order so our intentions are clearer.

“We will continue to tackle anti-social behaviour, through a combination of support and enforcement, on behalf of our residents who deserve to be able to use our streets and parks without fear of anti-social behaviour or abuse and we will continue to work with Thames Reach to support vulnerable people.”

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