Windsor council has been accused of punishing people for being homeless after plans emerged to fine rough sleepers £100 as part of a new “homelessness support strategy”.
The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead will impose public space protection orders (PSPOs) banning aggressive or proactive begging, requests for money, leaving bedding and belongings in a public area and urination or defecation in town centres in the area, including Windsor, Maidenhead, Ascot and Eton.
Breaches would lead to a £100 fixed penalty notice, which would be cut to £50 for early payment, but offenders could face a summary conviction and a £1,000 fine if they fail to pay. The measures would be enforced by community wardens equipped with stab-proof vests and body cameras.
Councillor Jesse Grey, the Conservative cabinet member for environmental services, claimed the Berkshire council was justified in introducing the proposals, which are part of a strategy to deal with the homeless population, which will take effect from 31 July.
“We have accommodation for everyone who is sleeping rough. It’s the ones who don’t want our help that we have to do something about,” he said. “The genuine ones who sign up to the programme, we want to help, but we need some sort of action to serve our residents and our businesses.”
The plan follow recent controversy over the council’s approach to homelessness prompted by council leader Simon Dudley’s assertion that rough sleepers should be cleared from the town centre for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which is taking place at Windsor Castle on 19 May.
Dudley faced a no-confidence vote last month after he demanded police use legal powers to clear the area of homeless people before the wedding, claiming rough sleepers were making a voluntary choice and there was “high-quality housing” available as an alternative.
The new measures have attracted criticism from the homelessness charities Shelter and Crisis, and the human rights advocacy group Liberty.
“It is wrong to fine or criminalise homeless people simply because they are homeless,” said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. “Councils understandably have a balance to strike between the concerns of local residents and the needs of rough sleepers. If there’s genuine antisocial activity, then councils should intervene, but people deserve better than to be treated as criminals simply because they have nowhere to live.
“If enforcement is to be used, councils must make sure it is accompanied by access to meaningful support and accommodation so rough sleepers can escape the streets and begin to rebuild their lives. Without that support, rough sleepers are at risk of being further marginalised, making it even harder for them to get help.”
Under the council’s new strategy, homeless people will be expected to sign up to a 56-day plan in which they are offered housing, medical and addiction services. If they do not comply with the plan, rough sleepers could face prosecution.
But Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “If somebody is forced to spend the night on the streets, that’s not a lifestyle choice or antisocial behaviour. If someone begs for money, that’s not harassment; that’s a plea for basic compassion.”
Anne Baxendale, the deputy director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: “People sleeping on the street don’t do so through choice; they are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and even violence. They desperately need our help, support and advice to move off the streets into safety and, eventually, into a home. Stigmatising or punishing them is totally counter-productive.”
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