Homeless people face fines of up to £1,000 for sleeping rough in public doorways, under a new asbo-style rule introduced by a London Council.
Homelessness charities have reacted angrily to Hackney Council’s ‘Public Space Protection Order’, which they say “criminalises homelessness”.
The new order bans homeless people from sleeping in public areas and doorways and can be legally enforced through a £100 on the spot fine.
This fine could quickly escalate to as much as £1,000, due to additional court costs. It remains unclear on how the Council will expect destitute homeless people to pay up.
Matt Downie, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the homelessness charity Crisis, said:
“While it’s right that the police have the power to tackle genuine criminals, covering a complex issue with a wide-ranging PSPO could lead to people in dire need of support facing a counterproductive arrest or fine.”
“Rough sleepers deserve better than to be treated as a nuisance – they may have suffered a relationship breakdown, a bereavement or domestic abuse. Instead, people need long-term, dedicated support to move away from the streets for good.”
Connor Johnston, a barrister specialising in homelessness, added: “The purpose of these orders is to clamp down on antisocial or nuisance behaviour that impacts on the quality of life of those in the locality.
“There is nothing inherently antisocial about a person being forced to sleep rough and we should not be criminalising it.”
Mark McPherson from Homeless Link said to “criminalise sleeping rough could simply create additional problems to be overcome”.
“If local authorities are concerned about people sleeping on their streets, we would urge them to work with local homelessness charities and authorities to connect people with the structured help they need to get off the streets for good.”
Deputy mayor, Sophie Linden, denied claims Hackney Council is trying to criminalise homelessness. “The welfare of every vulnerable person is of highest importance to us”, she said.
“We are trying to tackle persistent antisocial behaviour that is concentrated in specific areas and having an adverse effect on the lives of residents and visitors to the area”.
The Public Space Protection Order states: “Officers will put rough sleepers in contact with organisations that make sure they get the medical attention that they need, and help with housing.”
Connor Johnston said the Public Space Protection Order will simply “shunt homeless people to another borough”.
He added: “This won’t solve anything beyond making our streets a bit ‘shinier’ and will almost certainly just make it harder for those sleeping rough to access the support services they rely on.”
Oxford City Council has introduced a similar order. Homeless people were made exempt after a consultation found it would not be an effective way of tackling homelessness in the city. A petition against the order was signed by over 72,000 people.