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Newport City Council: Don't use a PSPO to ban rough sleeping in the city centre

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Rough Sleepers Cymru, The Wallich, Shelter Cymru & Llamau are deeply concerned at Newport Council’s Streetscene, Regeneration and Safety Scrutiny Committee decision to approve the future use of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in Newport City Centre.

The decision to allow the use of a PSPO came after a public consultation, which received only 403 responses and found 90% in favour of a rough sleeping ban.  We believe the question asked misled the public into a ‘yes’ answer through its language.  We called for the results of that particular question to be deleted before being put to scrutiny committee members.  We received no reply to this letter and the results were submitted to councillors.  Newport City Council has not addressed the issue of the wording of their consultation.

The question online was as follows:

Q2. There should be no rough sleeping in the city centre - this has sometimes led to fires, criminal damage and abandoned drugs materials, rough sleepers need help and support.

I agree with this proposal

Or

I disagree with this proposal

We believe that the inclusion of the phrase “rough sleepers need help and support” misled the public, as many would agree with this statement, thereby being recorded as agreeing with a rough sleeping ban.  Additionally, linking rough sleepers to arson and criminal damage further misled the public as no evidence was provided in support of this statement.  The consultation also linked rough sleeping with aggressive begging.  We dispute this link, aggressive begging is regularly perpetrated by those who are not homeless and can already be dealt with under existing laws such as the Vagrancy Act 1824.

Among other measures, the PSPO would allow the enforcement of fixed penalty notices and potential prosecution leading to a criminal record for “those individuals who were rough sleeping and who already had accommodation.” We have a number of concerns around this as a method of addressing rough sleeping.  Criminalising rough sleeping will drive vulnerable people underground where The Wallich's Rough Sleeper Intervention Team, providing humanitarian aid, advice and support in accessing healthcare & housing, can't reach them. This will lead to people with mental and physical health problems not seeking treatment due to fear of arrest. Other rough sleepers will not be deterred by being given a criminal record and will continue to sleep outside.

People choose to sleep in city centres because they are well-lit, and monitored by CCTV, thus providing a sense of safety.

The ban on rough sleeping would be impractical to enforce.  The consultation called for rough sleepers to be given “help and support” rather than sleeping in the city centre.  Newport City Council provides 125 beds for rough sleepers to access through their referral service.  Many of these spaces are reserved for those in priority need such as vulnerable women and those with mental health issues and are unavailable to many single rough sleepers.  We have seen an increase in rough sleepers in South Wales who are not in priority need and are homeless due to financial reasons only. Bed spaces available for these individuals in Newport are few. We believe that this ban would simply criminalise those who are sleeping rough and have no other option.

We questioned the First Minister Carwyn Jones in person on a potential ban on rough sleeping in Newport. His response was “We have to have a system and society that provides support to rough sleepers and helps prevent it.” We believe that the potential ban on rough sleeping in Newport would make it much harder for this to be a reality.

This is a worrying trend with similar measures being considered elsewhere in the UK.

We believe that criminalising people for an activity over which they have no choice, is totally unacceptable, and we demand that Newport City Council reconsiders its position on this measure.

Read our press release here: http://www.thewallich.com/newport-council-to-ban-rough-sleeping-our-response/

Newport rough sleepers in the press:

http://www.cymorthcymru.org.uk/en/news-blog/news/rough-sleepers-cymru-condemn-newport-rough-sleeping-ban

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/campaigners-warn-new-antisocial-behaviour-powers-could-be-used-to-target-the-homeless-a6698476.html

http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/13873907.Anger_at_Newport_ban_on_begging_and_rough_sleeping/

http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/13838553.Newport_business_owners_hit_out_at_council_s_plans_to_ban_rough_sleeping_and_begging/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0359lc0

 



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