Exeter City Council: Don’t Criminalise Exeter’s rough sleepers or destroy their belongings.
And here is my response:
Thank you for contacting me by the Change.org petition site.
I have campaigned for the rights of street homeless for many years – I have taken part in the Exeter YMCA Sleep Easy fund-raising event several times, instead of sending Christmas cards I give a sizable donation to Crisis at Christmas, I have regular contact with a local Big Issue vendor and as a volunteer with Exeter CAB assist in helping the homeless exert their rights.
In the body of your petition you ask me to “abandon the PSPO proposals and work with homelessness charities and other relevant bodies instead to work out non-coercive strategies for providing meaningful and long-term support for vulnerable people in Exeter.
I hope you have heard about the pro-active work Exeter City Council [ECC] is doing o help rough sleepers on the streets of Exeter?
Instead of waiting for outside temperatures to fall below zero for 3 consecutive nights before opening up additional spaces under the Government’s Severe Weather Provision, ECC is a key partner driving the Safe Sleep Exeter initiative forward.
The Safe Sleep Exeter partnership is keen to offer a safe place to sleep for those with no other options.
Through pooled resources from a variety of agencies and partners, under this scheme an additional 26 spaces to accommodate rough sleepers will be available from 1 December to 28 February, including specific provision for women.
Partner agencies include Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, NHS, Devon and Cornwall Police and local providers BCHA, Julian House and St Petrock’s.
It is hoped that in this safe place, ECC’s newly appointed Street Outreach team – Julian House – can engage with rough sleepers to offer them the accommodation and support they need, ideally helping them to move through into longer-term options.
This is much more satisfactory that trying to meet up with rough sleepers on the streets of Exeter.
In particular, Safe Sleep Exeter will link directly into ongoing projects such as MEAM (Making Every Adult Matter – focus on complex homeless individuals) and the development of ICE (Integrated Care Exeter) which is a strategic alliance of public, voluntary and community sector organisations.
Early in 2016, ICE will be trialling a new Health & Well Being Team which brings together existing resources to deliver a single, integrated approach. The purpose of ICE is to better meet the immediate and longer term needs of the street homeless and to ensure that only people who have a clinical need for inpatient acute care are admitted to hospital.
It is my hope that such positive engagement will actively reduce the number of rough sleepers.
Of course, this is just one visible sign of the work that Exeter City Council is undertaking – another is working with many of the same partner agencies to deliver the Exeter Wellbeing Hub at Wat Tyler House in King William Street.
The Hub (sometimes called Co-Lab) is a humanitarian community response to homelessness and other issues.
Being well aware of the complex needs of street homeless – especially those with addiction and substance abuse – the ambition is to create a recovery-focused, co-located and integrated health & wellbeing hub for people with a range of needs and capacities, based around a specialist GP surgery, but also including substance misuse, mental health, and offender management services. The new offer will integrate these services with adult learning, volunteering programmes, housing advice, personal finance & debt management, participation and citizenship programmes to create a ‘wraparound’ offer that better meets the needs of people using the hub, and creates a space for genuine integration of people, resources, expertise and systems within a holistic integrated approach.
In particular, many of the services based at the Wellbeing Hub (including Julian House) will be tasked with helping Exeter City Council more fully engage with rough sleepers.
But of course, rough sleeping is only the visible aspect of homelessness – it accounts for 5% of the work on homelessness carried out by Exeter City Council.
Which is why ECC is currently reviewing and revising its dusty Homelessness Strategy, with the plan to make in an agile and fleixible action plan. There is a Homelessness Task & Finish Group looking into this.
The Group presented an interim report to Scrutiny Committee: Community in November.
It is hoped that another report will be brought to Community Scrutiny early in the new year.
You rightly point out that much of the root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing – much of this due to the pernicious attacks by both the previous coalition Government and the current Tory one on social housing.
While the headlines of the local paper scream about each and every purpose built student accommodation block, they make little mention that such developments are freeing up houses in multiple occupation for shared housing for under-35s (housing benefit for this age range is focused on this type of property) and even returning those HMO back to family occupation.
Even under the severe Govt restrictions, ECC have built nearly 50 Council Own Build properties – each of them to eco-friendly Passivhaus standards to reduce energy costs. Nowhere near enough, but the best performance in the South West.
ECC are also robustly enforcing their s106 affordable housing strategy outlined in the Local Plan – each and every development above 10 units is delivering 35% affordable housing (the majority for social rent of 50% market rent, rather than the unaffordable *affordable* rent of 80% of market rent).
That equates to almost 600 affordable homes in the past 5 years, and there are nearly 2000 more in the pipeline – but of course, much of that could be put in jeopardy by changes announced in the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review/Autumn Statement at the end of November.
And we are already looking at creative ways to ensure this work is continues despite the threats posed by the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16.
So after all that, I come to the Public Spaces Protection Order.
I too have concerns about PSPOs in general, and I have been paying close attention to the writings of Liberty and others on the subject.
With this in mind, I have spoken at length and in detail with portfolio holders – especially my co-councillor In Cowick, Cllr Heather Morris, who has held the Portfolio (for Customer Access) covering homelessness since May 2015.
I had read about the plans for a PSPO in Oxford and the idea to prevent rough sleeping, specifically in public toilets.
I’ve also seen the plans to ban rough sleeping in Newport.
I was keen to ensure that we didn’t fall into the trap of seeming to criminalise the act of rough sleeping. In fact, I would go as far as to say I would be be totally and wholly opposed to the idea of criminalising rough sleeping per se.
So nowhere in the process have we considered the idea of banning rough sleepers from the streets of Exeter.
So what have we considered?
The initial report came to Community Scrutiny in September, was considered by Executive later that month and the public consultation was launched on 11/11/15.
The length of the consultation is much longer than the statutory minimum – to make sure everyone was given chance to make their views known.
I see the aim of the ECC PSPO as means to encourage engagement with outreach workers, rather than a means to target rough sleepers – a carrot rather than a stick.
Rough sleepers have rights – but so do the other citizens, workers and businesses of Exeter. They have the right not to be intimidated or to have to face the daily ordeal of belongings left in shop doorways.
And if that means – at times – some sort of enforcement, I have to ask myself what are the limits to that enforcement?
To this end, I have spoken to some of the PCSOs who currently do the early morning shift around the city – they carry out wake-up calls for the rough sleepers. In the main, the street homeless each morning remove their bedding when asked.
The intention behind the PSPO provision to ensure that bedding, mostly likely in the form of cardboard, isn’t left in shop doorways. So, if bedding and cardboard is continued to be removed each morning, then there will be no problem – and no need for further action via Fixed Penalty Notices.
This is highlighted in ECC’s FAQ document to accompany the consultation:
Will this outlaw rough sleeping in the city centre?
No it will not. The Order works by seeking to clear away the shelter (tent, bedding, bivouac, and associated paraphernalia) where it has been set up in a situation likely to be considered anti-social to the general public. An offence is only caused if the person refuses to clear away their bedding and other belongings when requested to do so by an authorised officer.
Are rough sleepers being targeted?
They are not being targeted. There are support services and temporary accommodation available to people who sleep rough, but some chose not to access this support.
Sleeping rough in the city centre can place someone in a very vulnerable situation, and it is not beneficial to their health and wellbeing, so officers enforcing the Order will be briefed to signpost rough sleepers to appropriate support services.
As I said, I still have concerns – especially if enforcement officers overstep the mark that I have outlined above.
It will be essential that councillors will be able to know what measures will be in place to alter or amend PSPOs if such a situation arises.
Throughout all of this I am looking to find a delicate – yet complex – balance between offering whole-person support and emergency aid to the street homeless without neglecting the needs of the wider community.
I am looking to see the outcome of the public consultation before coming to an ultimate decision on the matter.
Please do take the time to respond – your views really are important in this process.
Thank you for reading this far
[and endorsed by Cllr Pete Edwards and Cllr Rosie Denham]
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) were brought in under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
PSPOs specify an area where activities are taking place that are or may likely be detrimental to the local community’s quality of life.
PSPOs impose conditions or restrictions on people using that area.
Hilary Osborne: Charities warn councils against criminalising rough sleepers [Guardian, 22 May 2015]
Oxford City Council: City Centre PSPO consultation response paper [11 June 2015]
Oxford City Council: Recommendations from the Scrutiny Committee to City Executive Board on the City Centre Public Spaces Protection Order [15 October 2015]
Oxford City Council: Supplementary Report to City Executive Board on the City Centre Public Spaces Protection Order [15 October 2015]
Oxford City Council: Notes of City Centre PSPO Panel [15 October 2015]
Oxford City Council: Suggested CEB response to the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations [15 October 2015]
Manifesto Club: Why Oxford City Council won’t take ‘no’ for an answer [27 October 2015]
Newport Council radically overhauled its proposed PSPO, following a letter from Liberty. As originally drafted, the Order would have placed a blanket ban on begging, rough sleeping and free leaflet distribution, among other activities. Both the provisions on rough sleeping and leaflet distribution have been abandoned, while that on begging has been watered down.
Newport Council: City Centre PSPO consultation paper [24 August 2015]
The Wallich: An open letter co-signed by Shelter Cymru and Cymorth Cymru to Newport City Council raising our concerns surrounding the consultation on a potential rough sleeping ban in Newport City Centre [02 October 2015]
Liberty: Dangerous, disproportionate, unlawful: Liberty calls on Newport City Council to scrap unjustified PSPO plans [05 October 2015]
The Wallich: Newport Council to ban rough sleeping. Our response [15 October 2015]
Newport Council: City Centre PSPO consultation response paper [15 October 2015]
Shelter Cymru: Our response to Newport Council approve use of PSPO [16 October 2015]
Steven Morris: Homeless people of Newport angry at council plans to ban rough sleeping [Guardian, 25 October 2015]
Liberty: Liberty welcomes Newport City Council’s radical overhaul of unlawful and unjustified PSPO plans [25 November 2015]
Newport Council City Centre Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) was introduced to this geographical boundary in November 2015 following public consultation. The PSPO allows the council to prohibit behaviour that adversely affects the quality of life of people who live, work or visit the city centre.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has closed its consultation over a proposed PSPO which would not only fine rough sleepers and beggars in the city centre, by cruelly banning people from lying down or sleeping in a public place, it would also restrict busking to designated areas, forcing musicians to gain “approved busker” status by passing quality tests, and even criminalise anyone feeding birds in the city centre. The recommendations on the PSPO will be considered by Cabinet in January 2016.
The formal consultation period can for 12 weeks from 23 July 2015 to 15 October 2015.
- Paper questionnaire (PDF, 900KB)
- Draft enforcement code of conduct for officers (PDF, 154KB)
- Proposed draft order for the PSPO (PDF, 82KB)
- PSPO background information (PDF,1.4MB)
- Frequently asked questions (PDF, 523KB)
- Equality impact assessment (PDF, 287KB)