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Don't criminalise rough sleeping or busking, keep public spaces open to the community

This petition had 898 supporters

Instead of supporting the most vulnerable and destitute people under their care, Conservative-led Gravesham Borough Council are consulting on proposals to make rough sleeping a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000. Their draft 'Public Space Protection Order' will also criminalise busking, begging, feeding birds 'without prior permission' and will even make it a criminal offence to ride bicycles on New Road between 10am and 6pm.

These proposals could also see some of the most impoverished and vulnerable people in the UK facing criminal charges and unpayable fines of up to £1000 just for sleeping in a shop doorway, or busking 'without permission'. Not only is this an attack on freedom of expression and the cultural life of the borough of Gravesham, it is also an attack on the poorest members of society.

Whilst some people might find begging to be offensive, what these plans means in reality is that people who beg in Gravesham Borough Council's designated PSPO face criminalisation and if they end up in court will also be subject to Chris Grayling’s mandatory court charge of at least £150 on top of a fine of up to £1000. As well as being disproportionate, this is an enormous waste of public money and will divert the courts and the police from more serious and important matters.

Mark Smith, 38, of no fixed address, admitted persistently begging in a public place, Cornmarket Street, Oxford, in May.  He was sent to prison for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.

Matthew Dobbs, 26, of Speedwell Street, Oxford, admitted begging in Cornmarket Street, Oxford, on March 28. He also admitted failing to surrender to custody at Oxford Magistrates’ Court without good reason on April 22. Fined £50 and ordered to pay a £20 victims’ surcharge and a £150 criminal courts charge.

Gravesham Brough Council know that as soon as a beggar is sent to a Magistrates’ court they are setting them further on a path of indebtedness and exclusion.

When Oxford City Council introduced similar proposals over 72,000 people signed a petition asking them to think again and Liberty issued a legal challenge calling on them to abandon their unlawful attempts to criminalise homeless people and buskers.

 As Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty rightly pointed out in that challenge:

“If somebody is forced to beg or sleep in a public toilet, that’s not antisocial behaviour – it’s poverty. Oxford City Council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable people in their city, not slapping them with a criminal record and a fine they can’t possibly afford to pay. 

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which advocates for public spaces which are open to informal offerings of art and music and other community uses.  We are calling on Gravesham Borough Council to abandon their plan to criminalise rough sleeping, begging, feeding birds, riding bicycles and busking. The council and police have strong existing powers to deal with the small minority of people who cause genuine antisocial behaviour, they have no need for the proposed sweeping and arbitrary measures.  We have seen public pressure prevent similar measures being adopted in Oxford, Westminster and Hackney and know that public pressure can stop this from happening in Gravesham too. Please take a moment to sign and share this petition to stop Gravesham making homelessness harder than it already and to save street culture in Gravesham from the assault on civic freedoms.

Please take a short moment to complete the online consultation to this proposal. The more people who tell Gravesham Borough Council that this is a mis-conceived idea, the more chance we have of stopping it:

Link to the online consultation:

Link to our response to the consultation.

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