Council backtracks on fining homeless after thousands sign petition

Ellie Goulding attending the Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2015 held at Berkeley Square Gardens,

Ellie Goulding attending the Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2015 held at Berkeley Square Gardens, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday June 2, 2015. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The council have dropped a threat to fine homeless people after a petition slamming the plan attracted more than 80,000 signatures in its first week.

A public space protection order (PSPO) introduced by the council at the end of April meant rough sleepers in certain areas of the borough could be landed with a £100 fixed penalty notice or be taken to court and fined up to £1,000.

At the time the council said the powers, which covered Hackney Downs, LondonFields, Broadway Market, Mare Street and Regent’s canal, would be used as “a last resort”.

But the order’s inclusion of rough sleepers came under fire from charities and campaign groups that said it risked criminalising vulnerable people who could miss out on vital services available to help them.

The petition, on the website, also received celebrity endorsement, with popstar Ellie Goulding accusing Hackney Council of “treating homeless people like criminals” in a scathing Twitter attack.

The order has now been amended to say: “The public spaces protection order for the London borough of Hackney No 1 of 2014 is amended as follows: Paragraph 2 entitled ‘Activities’ delete ‘(iii) rough-sleeping’. Paragraph 3 entitled ‘Prohibitions’ delete ‘(c) Rough-sleeping within the restricted area’.”

Cllr Sophie Linden, Cabinet member for crime, sustainability and customer services said: The PSPO is not about ‘criminalising the homeless’. Anyone sleeping rough in Hackney is always offered the support and help that they need, firstly to get a roof over their heads in temporary accommodation, and then to help them get a permanent home. People who have found themselves being evicted, who have fallen on tough times and ended up sleeping rough are always helped. The Council has no intention of fining or taking action against these people.”

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An update on the order, on the council website, added: “The rough sleeping provision in the PSPO is designed to tackle a handful of entrenched rough sleepers who have repeatedly and over a long period resisted all attempts to house them and help them, and who are causing serious problems for other residents with anti-social behaviour including drug use, drunkenness, public urination and defecation, and threatening behaviour.

“These are people who often have serious addiction and mental health problems but have repeatedly failed to engage with the services which could help them. In some of these very difficult cases, the threat of legal action has been the push that has persuaded them to seek the help that they so desperately need. “

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