English council buys one-way train tickets to move on rough sleepers

crisis homelessA local authority in England has been criticised for its policy of buying one-way train tickets for homeless people to move them out the area.

Bournemouth Borough Council said it has spent £500 so far on train tickets for nine people to leave as part of a new £200,000 strategy using “assertive techniques and procedures”.

In April, councillors were told a new homelessness strategy was being prepared in light of figures showing the number of people sleeping rough in 2015 had risen to 47 from the 2014 figure of 31.

The authority said it had allocated an extra £200,000, covering the cost of two additional full-time staff to find solutions for rough sleepers including helping some to return to their home areas.

“We have a proactive reconnections service for those from out of area needing to return to areas where they have family or social networks,” says the council in a report.

“This approach is well established within local authorities and is endorsed by central government. Each case is considered on its merits and efforts are made to ensure that rough sleeping is not simply displaced to another area.”

Councillor Robert Lawton, cabinet member for housing, told the Daily Mail that many rough sleepers in the town don’t have a local connection.

“They just come to Bournemouth because they see it as an attractive place to live and beg,” he said.

“We want to help them get back to where they came from. There’s nothing to stop them coming back again, we don’t have guards at the ticket station stopping homeless people coming in. But we’ll then pick up on them again and generally they will realise there’s no point to keep coming back.”

Claire Matthews, who runs the Hope for Food charity, said the move “will only push the problem to somebody else’s door” and that the money could be better spent on getting people back into society.

Ms Matthews, whose group of volunteers helps rough sleepers in the town, said: “It’s an attitude of ‘it’s not my problem, let’s shoot them off somewhere else’.

“Why are they trying to push everybody out? It will only push the problem to somebody else’s door.

“Why don’t they use that money in other ways to try and help these people back into society? has got to work with them not against them.”

Homelessness in Bournemouth has risen by 400 per cent over the last four years - much more than in the country as a whole. According to the council, only around half of the affected people are local, and only non-locals are encouraged to leave.

Lorraine Mealings, head of housing at Bournemouth Borough Council, said: “The rough sleeper team liaise with every single person who’s out there and people from out of the area are actively re-engaged with the area they come from.”

Bournemouth Borough Council faced criticism in December for playing loud music including bagpipes and Alvin and the Chipmunks at its travel interchange to deter rough sleepers.

The authority said its strategy to deter street drinking, begging and rough sleeping also included “frequent wake-ups, disruption and cleansing from the Rough Sleeper Team”.

It said it funded a wide range of services for homeless people, including a specialist mental health worker and about 200 beds in hostels.

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