I’m doing this on my phone – usual apologies.
The more difficult part of the byelaw. The banning of lying down and sleeping in public areas in a designated zone.
I think i probably have the most hardline approach to this part outside of the council itself because I actually roughly support this section of the byelaw as well for the following reasons:
Firstly, the byelaw chooses its words carefully: it includes the act of laying down bedding as well. This is really important because, as my blog and tweets should have made clear by now, a large proportion of people who pretend to be rough sleepers (and they can be very convincing) in busy thoroughfares are actually just begging and are not homeless at all. The byelaw covers a very popular area for begging which also happens to be a major tourist area and an international gateway to the country. It is not an image we need to present to the world. I don’t beg and only sleep in out of the way side streets but have been given around £200 over the last year, so you can only imagine what people are making on the main roads. Some people sit down and wrap themselves in a sleeping bag to beg. Others pretend to be sleeping, people leave money by them and then at night they pick up their things and go home (or, often as not, as soon as they have enough for a beer). At the moment they can only be moved if the police witness them soliciting money but the byelaw will make cracking down on this form of public subsidy for drug dealers and off licences much much easier.
This is also an area that is seeing a lot of commercial and retail development at the moment. I’ve noticed a couple of new large hotels are nearing completion as well. I’ve read somewhere that people tend to spend less when confronted with what they perceive to be destitution. It would be good if someone could dig up that research for me. London, you don’t need me to tell you, is heavily reliant on retail and tourism spending. And of course it’s obvious that any money that does get given to beggars is money that isn’t being spent at businesses which in turn provide employment to many.
Within the proposed zone and just on its fringes there are currently ten homeless hostels (serving different needs groups) and one large daycentre. It’s an area therefore that already has to deal with more than its fair share of people with challenging behaviour. It’s grossly unfair therefore to say that it’s about the rich trying to sweep the poor out of the area because in fact those rough sleepers will more likely than not be housed in buildings on the same streets where they are sleeping at the moment. Yes, some of the hostels are set to close but that is part of a welcome change in strategy for housing the homeless and many of the beds in the area will remain.
Further on this issue of the number of hostels in the area, it is a common complaint of homeless services that street life in the area acts as a draw pulling people out of hostels and back onto the street. People moving indoors are having to confront many difficult issues in their lives and, if it is too easy for them to walk away and end up back on the streets, no wonder so many of them decide they would rather do that than face up to the difficulties in their lives. Banning rough sleeping in the area won’t stop everyone in that situation from abandoning their hostel place (particularly when the byelaw covers such a small area), but it will put in place another piece of the overall (decidedly complex) puzzle. [And that’s an important point to make because too many people are reducing the debate to simple cause and effect like ‘no-one sleeps rough for a sandwich’ when in fact ending rough sleeping is about getting hundreds of little things right and this is just one of them.]
The very first place i slept rough in london was in fact the westminster piazza. I slept there a few nights and had trouble nearly every night. It’s definitely the most dangerous area for rough sleeping. Other rough sleepers i’ve talked to in london agree that it is the most dangerous area because it is a hub for newcomers from the continent. For those curious individuals who still persist in talking about a person’s ‘right’ to sleep rough (what is that – a right to be denied help by the state for your health or housing problems? Very strange) then don’t forget it doesn’t apply to people on private property. There’s nothing to stop people from sleeping on private steps and doorways out of the way – the advantage being it prevents large intimidating groups from forming in public thoroughfares and making places effectively no-go areas. It’s also much easier and safer for outreach services to engage with people sleeping in ones and twos than larger groups.
With regard to the local residents, many of them are indeed wealthy but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be entitled to feel safe on their way to and from their home.
With rough sleeping disallowed in the area, all the organisations that are currently putting so much time, money and energy into opposing the ban can get to work on what they should really be doing: keeping a close eye on the agencies trying to house the homeless and making sure they fulfil their promises to deal effectively with rough sleepers as individuals and provide the best solution to meet their individual needs. That would be a better use of those organisations’ time and considerable resources.
Part 8 – what i would propose.