Charities concerns of councils criminalising rough sleepers

  • Following the decision by Hackney council to include homeless people in their antisocial behaviour order, charities are concerned that councils are criminalising rough sleepers.

    Hackney council have introduced a public space protection order that could see rough sleepers in some areas of the borough face a £100 fixed penalty notice or even be taken to court and fined £1,000, reports the Guardian./images/briefing/revenue-page.jpg

    The council has said that it does not want to criminalise homelessness; however charities working with rough sleepers believe that this move could lead to counter-productive arrests or fines.

    PSPOs were introduced in 2014 as a way to give councils more powers to tackle antisocial behaviour.

    Oxford city council have said that rough sleepers would not be included in the PSPO in the city centre due to a consultation indicating it's an unlikely way of being effective to tackle the problem.

    Hackney council said its PSPO was designed to tackle antisocial behaviour linked to street drinking and persistent rough sleeping. The order allows police or council officers to ask people to stop doing a range of things, from begging to having a dog off a lead causing a nuisance, including "sleeping rough in doorways or other public places".

    The council's announcement of the new order stated that "enforcement action is always the last option. Officers will put rough sleepers in contact with organisations that make sure they get the medical attention that they need, and help with housing."

    The council's deputy mayor, Sophie Linden, said it was not setting out to criminalise homelessness. "The welfare of every vulnerable person is of highest importance to us. We are trying to tackle persistent antisocial behaviour that is concentrated in specific areas and having an adverse effect on the lives of residents and visitors to the area. We are trying to help people off the streets and into housing and support. Our community wardens go out accompanied by specialist outreach workers, and rough sleepers are all offered support and a bed. Everyone should be able to enjoy and make use of the many public spaces that we have in our borough. Persistent street drinking and rough sleeping has been part of the antisocial behaviour in this area. People are urinating in the street, defecating in the churchyard, fighting and being abusive to members of public and spitting on passers-by."

    Connor Johnston, a barrister specialising in homelessness and a Hackney resident, said he was concerned by the council's decision to use a PSPO in this way, and that the move was "redolent of the Vagrancy Act 1824" which criminalises begging. 

    "The purpose of these orders is to clamp down on antisocial or nuisance behaviour that impacts on the quality of life of those in the locality. There is nothing inherently antisocial about a person being forced to sleep rough and we should not be criminalising it," he said.

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