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Oxford City Council proposes a ban on rough sleeping

sleeping rough Steven Lilley

Oxford City Council is considering banning rough sleeping under a new Public Spaces Protection Order, a move which has been challenged by local activists and university groups.

Plans currently in consultation by Oxford City Council propose banning actions including rough sleeping, public drinking, pigeon feeding, non-compliant busking and persistent begging in Oxford City centre. The area affected encompasses central Oxford, including Christ Church Meadows, University Parks and Jericho.

During a debate aired by BBC Radio Oxford on Sunday, Oxford City Councillor Dee Sinclair said that the measures were being considered in order to make Oxford a “world class city”, by removing behaviours which made some feel “uncomfortable”.

An online petition has been launched to protest the proposed changes, hosted by OUSU’s homelessness campaign On Your Doorstep. This petition has been signed by over 330 individuals, including numerous students, at the time of publication.

Freya Turner, chair of On Your Doorstep, told The Oxford Student: “This seems to us to be an unacceptable cover up of the huge housing and homelessness crisis that Oxford faces. By shifting some of Oxford’s most vulnerable citizens out of the centre and out of the public gaze, the PSPO would gloss over the longer term issues, and discriminates against Oxford’s rough sleepers by not treating them as legitimate members of society…”

“We feel that the situation surrounding rough sleeping in Oxford is far more complex than this sweeping, criminalising measure acknowledges, and that such a ban will only have detrimental effects on the position of the homeless in society.”

Oli Dinwoodie, one of the petition’s signatories, also criticised the proposed measures: “Sleeping rough is one of the hardest tasks that any person would have to undergo. Oxford’s rough sleepers are not there by choice and our local council should be providing support rather than making life harder.”

The last official count of rough sleepers in Oxford (carried out November 2014) identified 26 individuals sleeping rough. On Your Doorstep further claims that Oxford “consistently has the second or third highest rate of homelessness per capita in the country”, with “around 50 to 100 individuals sleeping in shelters each night”.

Opposition to these changes also comes from wider sources. Josie Appleton, director the Manifesto Club, described the proposed new powers as “so broad that they allow councils to ban pretty much anything. The result is a patchwork of criminal law, where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next. This makes it hard for the public to know what is criminal and what is not.”

Appleton continued: “These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else whom the council views as “messy”. It is astonishing that in the 21st century you could be punished for the crime of selling a lucky charm, ‘loitering’, or failing to leave a retail park within 20 minutes. This looks like a return to the meddling and moralism of nineteenth-century bylaws.”

The PSPO changes are still in the consultation stage, which runs until the 31st March. An online form for residents to give their opinions on the issues under consideration is accessible from the Council’s website.

However, this consultation form has been labelled “inadequate” by OYD.

In its current form, the consultation allows answers in a yes/no/don’t know format with regards to issues including “persistent begging” and “sleeping in public places”. The online form gives a space for individuals to make a comment of up to 200 words on certain concerns (such as “non-compliant busking”), but this is not available for those parts of the form concerned with rough sleeping and other actions associated with homelessness.

It is not known exactly when these new regulations will come into action, if at all. Oxford City Council has already issued the first PSPO in the county of Oxfordshire, preventing young people under the age of 21, who are not legal residents, from entering Forester tower block unless visiting a resident. This Order was signed in February, following new powers granted to local councils in 2014.

At the time of publication, Oxford City Council had not responded to our request for comment.

 

 

PHOTO/Steven Lilley

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Jonathan Walker

    30th March 2015 at 21:04

    These authoritarian measures are a threat to liberty and civic wellbeing in Oxford.

    We at the Keep Streets Live Campaign have started our own petition against this incredibly daft and yet sinister initiative by Oxford City Council:

    https://www.change.org/p/oxford-city-council-stop-attacking-our-freedoms-support-a-vibrant-street-culture-in-oxford

  2. Karen Kiil

    8th April 2015 at 23:02

    What is the proposed penalty for rough sleeping ? What is the definition of rough sleeping? If I nod off in a park on a sunny afternoon will that count as R S ?

  3. Mike

    9th April 2015 at 11:58

    Totally support the criminalisation of allowing people to sleep rough. If these councils were fined for it, maybe they’d get their finger out and find proper homes for them.

  4. Matt

    10th April 2015 at 15:51

    Hi, I just wanted to offer a counterpoint to the article above. As someone who has worked with rough sleepers for years I definitely don’t support the criminalisation of rough sleeping in Oxford, however at the same time I don’t really agree with all that Freya said. Firstly many of the rough sleepers I worked with, and certainly those with multiple complex needs were not ‘people just like you and me, who have been made homeless because of bad luck, relationship breakdown or money problems’. They were people with serious mental health, offending, addiction, or other problems. They became homeless because their high level of need meant they were unable to cope and couldn’t sustain a tenancy. Many of them may well always struggle to live a conventional life, in a house or flat, with a job, or even without one, without support. If you work in homelessness for any length of time you begin to see the same faces coming around time and again despite the best efforts of many dedicated and skilled workers. Opening up all the empty buildings and other such popular ideas about how to solve homelessness are unfortunately naive.

    When people with support needs are making crap choices and continuing to choose a street lifestyle that is damaging to their wellbeing enforcement through the police is sometimes used as a way of ensuring that they accept support and accommodation that has been offered. I am not at all a fan of this approach but perhaps this is part of the thinking of Oxford City Council.

    The other thing in Oxford is that it is a magnet for rough sleepers, much like Westminster where I used to work. This means that Oxford doesn’t necessarily have a housing problem (although it may do) but it definitely has a rough sleeping problem. Oxford City Council are not responsible for housing rough sleepers who are not connected to Oxfordshire. They do commission services which work to reconnect people to the places where they are entitled to support and accommodation. Many people don’t take up these offers.

    People choose to rough sleep in Oxford because the begging opportunities are far better there than in other places. This is because of the tourists, no doubt, but is probably because of all the fabulously wealthy students and their families too. Rough sleeping is to a large extent a symptom of a broken society. People with support needs are not able to access the support they need, they find it difficult to live meaningful lives, they are being economically squeezed as the gap between rich and poor expands, benefits and salaries go down while the cost of living goes up.

    Strange then that this campaign, supported by the Oxford University Student Union, has nothing to say about the wider inequality in our societies that underlie homelessness. This bastion of white, upper class, privately educated, wealthy, privileged, elitism helps create homelessness and inequality doesn’t it, as well as our inadequate response to it?

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