The council has apologised after a homeless man’s tent was removed from Madeira Drive last weekend and destroyed ahead of the London to Brighton bike ride.
The rough sleeper’s work clothes, new trainers and other possessions were inside the tent when it was removed by an officer while he was in A&E overnight.
The council said that when the new officer found the tent, “unsanitary items” had been put inside. But by removing it without notice and disposing of its contents, he breached the council policy.
Although the council does take down tents, its policy is to always give notice, to leave a note informing people it has been taken and where to retrieve it, and to store belongings for 28 days. None of these steps were taken.
The issue was raised by Jim Deans of Sussex Homeless Support CIO, who posted on Facebook: “Yet again council bin workers steal a homeless guys kit, and a tent and all his belongings, this will be the third time in the last few months he has had the lot taken.
“All his work clothes (yeah work clothes) new trainers and all his clothes and a brand new tent we gave him two weeks ago.
“It’s simple theft no other words to describe it.
“It was on the seafront tucked away, he went into hospital for overnight on an emergency, lot gone. We had been watching him daily for last few weeks.”
In a statement, the council said: “We’ve looked into the situation regarding the removal of personal belongings from the seafront at the weekend. A tent and contents was removed from Madeira Drive and disposed of. This was done without following the council’s policy for removing tents. We apologise for the upset this has caused and we’re working with the tent owner to resolve the situation.
“The officer involved had previously and appropriately asked the person staying in the tent to move on because they were pitched on the site of a major event due to take place at the weekend. Having observed the tent apparently abandoned on two separate occasions over several days, the officer asked for the items to be taken away.
“We understand the occupant was not able to be present for some time and, possibly in their absence, unsanitary items were added to the tent. The conditions in the tent led to the decision to remove all the belongings as soon as possible.
“The officer concerned was new in their role and further training has been provided to ensure staff know to follow the agreed procedures when tents are found on council land.
“While we do sometimes have to move tents, we always try to engage with anyone camping and offer advice on alternative places to stay. The council procedure is to give notice of any removal in advance because we do not want to take anyone’s possessions. Belongings are only allowed to be removed if no owner is present on two occasions and the items appear abandoned, unless there is a health and safety issue or the owner tells us they do not want them.
“The notice period depends on the amount of disruption caused by the encampment, but would likely be a minimum of 12 hours and usually longer. All rough sleepers are advised by outreach workers to take their belongings with them during the day to ensure they are not damaged on the streets while they are away.
“If the council does have to remove someone’s belongings, the items are stored for 28 days, unless hazardous. A note is left saying where the items were taken and giving information on how they can be claimed.
“Again we are sorry that on this occasion the procedures were not followed in full. We’re working with partners, including St Mungo’s, to support the individual in their complaint.”