Thursday, 14 January 2016

Being forced to spend the night in a public toilet isn't a lifestyle choice.

Members of North Staffs Green Party have put forward a question to Stoke-on-Trent City Council about the use of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) .

A PSPO is based on powers given to councils under the the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) allowing them to ban non criminal activities in a specific area. Fines incurred as a result of breaching a PSPO can be up to £1000.

A number of councils, including Hackney, Manchester and Oxford, have used them in the past to ban rough sleeping and persistent' and 'aggressive' begging.

PSPO's have also been used to ban freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Late last year local Green Party activist Sean Adam staged a sleep out in Stoke town centre to highlight the difficulties faced by local homeless people, speaking about the question put to the council he said:"it's important that this latest legislation is used in the right manner and not abused in the manner of 'numbyism'. Most of us don't want people, in this day and age, having to sleep rough; some just do not want to see them!"
Campaign group Liberty have identified a number of ways in which the use of PSPO's by councils breach the Human Rights Act. These include Article 8 the right to privacy, Article 10 the right to freedom of expression and Article 11 the right to protest and freedom of association.

A statement on the Liberty website says 'If somebody is forced to beg or spend the night in a public toilet, that's not a lifestyle choice or anti-social behaviour its extreme poverty' and goes on to call for local authorities to 'focus on ways to help the most vulnerable not criminalise them with fines they cannot pay.'

The question put to the council calls for it to 'give an undertaking that it will not impose such measures and will instead focus its efforts on helping rough sleepers find suitable accommodation and appropriate support in order to deal with the issues that have led to their becoming homeless.'

North Staffs Green Party Campaigns Coordinator Adam Colclough who put the question forward said 'local authorities who use PSPO powers against homeless people are taking entirely the wrong approach. This is not a problem relating to anti-social behaviour, it is one caused by poverty and in many cases mental health issues that have not been met by a welfare system that has been slashed to the bone by this government.'

He added that 'we have been in contact with the council before on issues relating to homelessness and have been satisfied with their response. However this is such an important issue, one that touches on some of our most fundamental civil rights, that we feel it necessary for the council to state clearly and publicly that it will not impose these draconian measures on the streets of our city.'

The Green Party fought the 2015 election on a range of policies designed to deal with the chronic shortage of affordable housing.

These include bringing the UK's 700,000 empty homes back into use, building 500,000 high quality social homes and giving tenants stronger rights.

The Green housing policy also included measures to devolve power over housing benefits to local authorities allowing them to design a package of support specific to their area and providing the same right to help to single homeless people as is currently given to families.

The question has been accepted and will be included in the agenda for the 17th March full council meeting.

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