I have long been aware that folk sleeping rough on the streets can be an embarrassment to the “authorities”, and some have gone about deterring / moving on such folk in a heavy handed manner. While over the years I have got know some of our rough sleeper friends and have listened to their stories of how they got into such a situation, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the dilemma that is presented, especially when a few rough sleepers engage in aggressive begging or present themselves as drunk and/or disorderly.
While not altogether surprised, it was with consternation I came across a report yesterday titled: “Homeless people to be fined up to £1,000 for sleeping rough”. The report went on to say: “Homeless people could be fined up to £1,000 for sleeping in doorways near popular tourist spots, under new rules launched by a London council. It’s not clear how destitute rough sleepers are expected to pay. Hackney Council’s Public Space Protection Order bans sleeping in public places – offenders are handed a £100 fixed penalty, which can rise to £1,000 in court”. It continued by raising objections by the likes of the homeless charity “Crisis” to this move. Friends’ Facebook comments included “stupid” and “wicked”, and some who purport to be homeless aren’t and do so in order to beg.
I am generally reluctant to condemn without knowing all the facts and without trying to understand the perspective of the “other side”, in this case those imposing fines and moving on rough sleepers. I also recognize this is nothing new and is also, if not exactly endemic, does happen in a number of places. Even in my own town, Southend, there have been reports of the authorities, and to be clear we are talking primarily about the local council and police, being, let us say, “heavy handed”, but in fairness and having taking these folk to task they have been understanding and sympathetic and have worked with concerned friends and local charities to come up with constructive, if not complete, solutions to the problems faced.
Without wanting to keep repeating myself but rather point folk to and urge them to read stuff I have already written on the subject, e.g. my first homeless blog: “myths about rough sleeping”, there are issues yet to be resolved, and maybe never will be entirely sorted out, but there are things that could be done such as not fining those who do not have the wherewithal to pay or moving on rough sleepers when there is nowhere for them to move onto. All this sets the scene for a deeper discussion and action, ranging at one level on building more homes and providing suitable support for rough sleepers to random acts of kindness undertaken by individuals.
It is what we, Joseph or Josephine Bloggs, can do and are doing that I would like to conclude. I can only speak with some degree of authority about what goes on in my own patch, Southend, but no doubt some of the principles are more widely applicable. One of the things that touched me from about Monday’s Street Spirit AGM (check here for more about Street Spirit) is the number of dedicated people on my doorstep that not only find the predicament rough sleepers find themselves in to be unacceptable but are doing something about it. Doing so smartly is important and is why I chair Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN – see here), am part of a multi-agency action group for assisting rough sleepers and work with a number of “interested” agencies, e.g. HARP.
There is scope for all to get involved and is why I welcome new kids on the block, like the Warrior Square Soup Kitchen people, who do what they do in order to make a difference.
Update: Like much of what we are exposed to in the media, social and otherwise, all is not as it seems and always there are developments that change the complexion on things. Always there is a need NOT to come to hasty conclusions and weigh the facts. One of the developments is an online petition signed by those objecting to what Hackney Council was purporting to do and an apparent climb down by the Council. Recent changes to the law, e.g. regarding public protection orders, is an interesting development to consider, especially as the aim is to deter anti-social behaviour in public spaces, often a real issue, rather than merely to penalise those who find themselves sleeping rough. I commend this article, which a friend who takes an interest in social justice and the law sent me.