- Labour and Greens endorse City-wide ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ ahead of vote at Full Council next Thursday
- Charter would permit begging in every area of City and make it harder for Council Officers to remove tents from parks
- Bill would put Sussex police in an impossible position, Conservatives say
Conservative Group Housing Spokesperson Mary Mears has said that Labour and the Greens’ proposal for a City-wide Homeless Bill of Rights would do little to help the homeless and instead put the council in direct conflict with the Sussex Police.
The Charter, endorsed by Labour and the Greens at Housing Committee this week, contains clauses that directly contradict the Law on Vagrancy; enshrining a right to beg across every geographical part of the city while also making it harder for council officers to remove tents from parks and other council recreation and play areas.
A final vote on whether to adopt the charter will take place at the Full Council meeting next Thursday 25 March 2021. The Full Proposal can be from page 113 of the Council Agenda.
Conservative Housing Spokesperson Mary Mears said that the policy needed a rethink and that in its current form would put the council on a collision course with the police.
“The Homeless Bill of Rights has been brought forward by the Housing Coalition in the City and we understand their aspirations to help the homeless” Cllr Mears said
“But as Andy Winter of Sussex Homeless Support has recently said, begging in our City has nothing to do with homelessness and everything to do with addiction. This is something that Labour and the Greens don’t seem to understand.
“The pandemic has thrown the City’s begging problem into sharp focus over the past 12 months and the City’s experience has largely confirmed what Mr Winter has been saying.
“While the Council, through £6.4 million in Government funding, has been able to offer hotel accommodation and food to all homeless people for more than a year now, residents have reported that begging on the streets has continued and residents have faced aggressive begging in some places.
“By asking for begging to be decriminalised and enshrining a right to beg in all parts of Brighton & Hove, Labour and the Greens would put our City in in direct contradiction with the law. This would put our local Police and PSCOs in an impossible position. Is that the message our Council wants to send to the Police Force that we are not supporting them?
“Instead of this policy, the Council would be much better to focus on delivering practical action to help people off the streets, for example by looking at implementing a city-wide cashless donation scheme to ensure that help from the public goes directly to help people overcome their addictions.
“The Conservatives are speaking out now, as the only party of Opposition in the Housing portfolio where Labour and the Greens have a Coalition arrangement, to stop our City making another policy mistake which will put another barrier up to helping people beat their addictions and move away from a miserable life of begging on the streets of Brighton & Hove.
“This needs much more careful consideration to address the aspirations within the homeless Bill of Rights while being mindful that we cannot as a Council be in conflict with the police” she said.
Conservative Councillor Dawn Barnett said that allowing tents across the City in public spaces including parks and other recreation and play areas was not the right policy for the City and would upset many residents.
“The Bill of Rights includes the right to rest in public places including public parks and says that tents should not in future be removed by public servants without compelling need.
“This will cause great concern to residents in the City who are frustrated at the time it takes the council to act on tents as it is.
“It took weeks for the council to do anything about the tents at Old Steine, where residents had to put up with drinking, fighting and defecating on a daily basis.
“I can only imagine how long it will take to get the Council do anything in the future if there is a Bill of Rights that stops council officers removing tents.
“It would create a highly confusing policy and create a policy difference between the City and the Police. The City Council would end up in conflict with Policing Policies and our PCSOs would face an impossible task.
“It is becoming clear that the Council is simply not capable of addressing the problem of begging in the City” she added.