Response to Hackney Council's statement
Jun 3, 2015 — Hackney Council have published a statement on their website justifying the use and need for Public Space Protection Orders. We would like to offer this statement below in response, and encourage all supporters of this petition to share and give their thoughts on this via social media, etc.
Response to Hackney Council’s statement of 21 May regarding the introduction of Public Space Protection Orders:
1) Hackney City Council states that it is not “setting out to criminalise the homeless.” While we do not doubt their sincerity in this, the fact remains that violation of a PSPO is a criminal offence which is subject to a Fixed Penalty Notice and a fine of £100 (and potentially up to £1,000). Therefore, it seems that despite the Council’s best interests, this measure would indeed ‘criminalise’ a rough sleeper who breaches an order for various reasons and it is highly likely that imposing a fine of £100 on rough sleepers will make their situation worse rather than better: For example, having a criminal record will hinder these rough sleepers from obtaining jobs, opening bank accounts and other such activities which are vital to change their circumstances.
2) Hackney Council claims that this move could be “the push” which persistent rough sleepers need to get help. They cite the following example:
“Recently, a man living outside someone's kitchen window only moved and accepted help when there was the push of enforcement. He’s now in a hostel, receiving support and looking forward to the future and having a home he can call his own.”
However, we would urge Hackney Council to consider what would have happened if enforcement action was really taken against this man. Would he have been fined £100? Or £1,000? Would that have helped him with his financial circumstances, his ability to find work or to pay future rent costs? What about people who refuse to take up a hostel because they are scared, or because they wish to remove themselves from any drugs/alcohol consumption which takes place there in a bid to remain sober – would a criminal conviction or fine help them?
3) Hackney Council cites behaviours such as people urinating in the street, defecating in the churchyard, fighting and being abusive to members of the public and spitting on passers-by. However, none of these behaviours are necessarily synonymous with rough sleeping, even persistent rough sleeping. If someone – anyone – is assaulting members of the public or defecating in public, these activities should of course be dealt with. The police already do have a wide range of powers to target this type of behaviour including, for example, the use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) as well as specific offences in the criminal law (such as assault, etc). What we ask though, is that rough sleeping, even persistent rough sleeping or begging is not included in the list of behaviours deemed “anti-social.” There is nothing inherently anti-social or violent in sleeping rough.
4) Hackney Council also claims that this is something it did not decide alone and that it spoke to businesses, community groups and other organisations. However, there was no public consultation before the introduction of these measures as there have been with other PSPOs. Why was the public not consulted formally? We would urge Hackney Council to please be fully open about its decision and consultation process and to give all residents the right to voice their opinions in a public discussion.
5) Hackney Council states that “enforcement is the last option and will only ever be used when all avenues have been exhausted” & that everyone found to be in need will be offered a home
However, we know that the test for who is deemed to be in priority need is narrow and that applicants also have to face other hurdles such as proving they are unintentionally homeless, that they are more vulnerable than the ordinary applicant, and that they have a local connection etc. Hackney Council has not outlined any measures which could guarantee or protect the measure being used more widely against anyone who is sleeping rough.
Additionally, even where potential PSPOs concern those who have refused accommodation, it is still wrong to implement a PSPO on this group. There are often a wide range of understandable reasons why people who are sleeping rough do not take up offers of accommodation such as: worry about contact with other drug/alcohol users, fear and mental health problems. We would therefore ask Hackney Council to consider the reasons why people refuse hostel accommodation instead of penalising and fining them. Further, if they are forced to move away from certain areas they may end up having to sleep in less public and therefore less safe areas.
6) Hackney Council has been awarded £33,000 from DCLG and Mayor of London to run a joint homeless project for rough sleepers in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and the City of London. We would like to take this opportunity to welcome this news, and to thank Hackney Council, the Police and wardens, community and safety officers for the work which they refer to. We share their desire that our public spaces should be free from anti-social behaviour. However, once more we would like to reiterate that rough sleeping in and of itself is not anti-social and should not be penalised or banned. We do not want to force people to move out of public areas into less safe areas where they may be even more vulnerable. We all want to see rough sleeping decrease but via changes in our laws and housing policy rather than fining or criminalising rough sleepers.
For the reasons given above, please tackle problematic or criminal behaviours such as assault using the criminal law and ASBO powers and remove the unnecessary & dangerous inclusion of rough sleeping/begging as behaviours capable of being dealt with by a PSPO.