Homeless people putting their possessions in shop doorways in Oxford have been threatened with fines of up to £2,500.
Legal notices have been pinned on to bags belonging to rough sleepers, warning that they could be prosecuted by Oxford city council for being in breach of antisocial behaviour laws.
The notices said the council felt the conduct was “having a detrimental effect … on the quality of life of those in the locality”. Breaking antisocial behaviour laws can result in a penalty fine of up to £2,500.
The move has been criticised by the former county councillor Larry Sanders, the brother of the former US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
The health and social care spokesperson for the Green party said: “In general, everybody knows that vulnerable people are not helped by fines and harassment. If anything helps, it’s thoughtful kindness.
Asked if he was talking about the fines when he used the term harassment, he said: “I think that the whole system does amount to harassment, yes.”
Sanders said the underlying problem was government cuts and the housing crisis.
The Green party councillor and leader of Oxford city council’s Green group, David Thomas, described the warnings as “intimidating”.
Thomas was sent pictures of the notices by a party colleague. He described them as an inappropriate use of antisocial behaviour legislation.
“Using antisocial legislation to sweep the homeless off the streets whilst refusing to re-open a 50-bed homeless hostel in the city centre shows how skewed the priorities of Oxford city’s Labour-run council have become,” he said.
“There a pattern here. It’s only a couple of years ago that Oxford Labour tried to fine the homeless for sleeping rough in the city centre. It took an alliance of student activists, Liberty and the Greens to make them see sense that time.”
Oxford city council said it was committed to helping the homeless. Speaking via its Twitter account, it said bags had been left blocking fire escapes in Cornmarket Street and they posed a “risk to those working inside”.
“We work closely with homelessness charities to support homeless people in Oxford, and every year we spend £1.4m to fund a wide range of outreach and support services.”
Oxford has one of the highest number of rough sleepers in the country outside of the capital. In 2015 an Oxford University student union group set up a petition to persuade the council to abandon its plans to ban rough sleeping.
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