OPINION

Homeless Bill of Rights would place council in conflict with police

Posted On 21 Mar 2021 at 12:10 am

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 Sussex Police.

This policy would provide a right to beg across every geographical part of Brighton and Hove while also making it harder for council officers to remove tents from parks and other council recreation and play areas.

The policy was endorsed by Labour and the Greens at the Housing Committee on Wednesday (17 March) and a final vote on whether to adopt the charter will take place at next week’s full council meeting.

The full proposal can be found starting on page 113 of the council agenda.

The Conservatives are speaking out ahead of this meeting – as the only party providing opposition in the housing portfolio where Labour and the Greens have a coalition arrangement – to try and stop our City making another policy mistake.

Begging in the city

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.

But as Andy Winter, of Brighton Housing Trust, 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 experience locally 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 and Hove, Labour and the Greens would put our city 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?

Tents in parks and playgrounds

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.

As was reported by Brighton and Hove News last year, it took weeks for the council to do anything about the tents in 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 police and PCSOs would face an impossible task.

The council would be much better spending its time 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 Bill of Rights policy will only put up another barrier up to helping people beat their addictions and move away from a miserable life of begging on the streets of Brighton and Hove.

It 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.

Councillor Mary Mears is deputy leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Jojo Goldsmith Reply

    Begging prior to the pandemic was at a ridiculous level in the city centre, (I even had a friend visiting from London comment on it and say it was worse here than in London). If this Bill of Rights protects this behaviour we will only see it get worse. Loon behaviour you expect from the Greens but Labour? Cllr Platts really must be losing it…

    • Hove Guy Reply

      I think they all lost it long ago. Begging is worse here than in London thanks to this being the City of Sanctuary! I expect we shall soon see a proposal for a Bill of Rights to protect drug dealers, vandals, shoplifters and burglars.

  2. Hove Guy Reply

    Ths really defies belief. The inmates are clearly running the asylum now. This council gets crazier day by day, with each bizarre policy. Do they not realise the harm that is being done to Brighton and Hove by allowiong beggars all over the place, as well as the hideous sight of tents on the pavements? From a bus yesterday I counted six of them between Old Steine and Brunswick Square. Have any of the council members walked along New Road, or sat on the benches there? Hardly a day goes by when there are not several drunks shouting out loud. Do they not realise that this will discourage people from visiting the city, which already has businesses suffering from the pandemic? If ever there was a need to get rid of Labour and Greens from our council, this is certainly it. Let us hope that this idiotic idea will not be allowed to go ahead. How about a Bill of Rights for us law abiding ratepayers, who are clealry being short changed by a council that is set on destroying the character of Brighton and Hove, turning it into one huge ugly, dirty dump.

    • Esther Reply

      You couldn’t have expressed it better.The reputation of city as a good place to visit can be destroyed in a matter of weeks and then it might take years to restore, if ever. The Green and Labour councillors need to go on to YouTube and take recent virtual tours of down-town and Venice Beach Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon to see what masses of tents, begging and non-policing does to make whole areas no-go and undesirable to the majority.
      If this turns out as predicted, I will visit Worthing town centre instead of Brighton. I will go in my car and not by the No. 6 bus that would otherwise take me into Brighton from West Hove.

  3. I am surprised at this opinion piece. Mary Mears expressed no opposition to the Homeless Bill of Rights at housing committee; she merely abstained on the report because of a late amendment to it.

    I wish that its critics would read the document (https://homelessrights.org.uk). Article 1 repeats the right to a home. In no way does it endorse homelessness; it condemns it. In no way does it enable or encourage aggressive begging or anti-social behaviour. What it says about begging is that if people sleeping rough are forced to beg for their survival, they should not be criminalised. It does not prevent the police from enforcing existing laws; it does commit the Council to joining the campaign by Shelter, Crisis, St Mungos and others to repeal the ancient statute, the Vagrancy Act 1828, which criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

    What the Homeless Bill of Rights *does* try to do is to ensure that people caught in this desperate situation are not automatically assumed to engage in anti-social behaviour, or drug use, or crime; are not treated as a nuisance or a problem just because they are homeless; but are instead treated as human beings, as equal in dignity and rights to the rest of us.

    • Esther Reply

      What the current public policy in Los Angeles also TRIES” to do is also “to ensure that people caught in this desperate situation are not automatically assumed to engage in anti-social behaviour, or drug use, or crime; are not treated as a nuisance or a problem just because they are homeless; but are instead treated as human beings, as equal in dignity and rights to the rest of us.”
      BUT…in practice, it is a disaster. The policy has attracted 60,000 people from all over the USA to live on its most famous streets, green spaces and beachfronts and many to beg and take drugs. Many of these areas are now no-go areas on foot, either because they are deemed dangerous but mainly because it is just unpleasant to visit them. The population size of LA is now falling for the first time as families move to pleasanter places like Austin, Texas. You would now be a bit mad to head for Venice Beach for a lovely walk.Have a look on YouTube to check this out if you don’t believe me.

  4. Paul Temple Reply

    The problem is and no matter how well intentioned the bill is, it’s hard to tell the difference between those who are genuinely begging to survive, those who undertake it to support a drug habit or those for whom it is a vocation. It should not be encouraged and any bill that enables this seems very flawed.

  5. Rachel S Reply

    The beggars in the town centre are not begging to ‘survive’ they are begging for drugs. Shelter recognise and say that by allowing people to beg for drugs it is encouraging them to refuse to take the help available to get off drugs and take back control of their lives. By endorsing this the council is making the town centre a dangerous and unpleasant place to visit and increasing the prevalence of junkies and drug dealers in the City as no other town tolerates this.

    People in the City also have rights. These include a right to go shopping and not see people shooting up, a right not to have to pick up excrement and needles when you open your shop in the morning, a right not to be harassed when you walk into town and a right to receive the service which they expect when they pay council tax and business rates which is a clean and safe town centre.

    • Daniel Harris Reply

      There are drug takers all across this city, is it only the ones who beg that the posters above have an issue with?

      What we should be asking is who gets all the drugs and addiction rehabilitation funding locally and why Is so much spent with little results..

      The biggest issue is private landlords on homelessness than drug taking and with the end to private sector evictions this human rights based policy will be needed even more.

      People in this city moan about rough sleeping and finally we have something which will not only provide people with dignity but also go some way in actually helping some of the most vulnerable.

      A lot of scars mongering being floated around and its just political in my opinion.

      There should be focus on the addiction issue. Its down to the police to prevent drug dealing and other services with a vigilant community, go after the dealers not the addicted and ill.

      The Homeless Bill of Rights is simple and aspirational and already its made changes possible and more coming to deal with the issue.

      I think those who profit from homelessness and the services have grant funding reduction worries as its in their interest to have rough sleeping.

      This essentially should in principle end the need, provide shelter, improve services and humanise, reintegrate and heal those who are in that position

      1. THE RIGHT TO HOUSING

      2. THE RIGHT TO SHELTER

      3. THE RIGHT TO USE PUBLIC SPACE

      4. THE RIGHT TO EQUAL TREATMENT

      5. THE RIGHT TO A POSTAL ADDRESS

      6. THE RIGHT TO SANITARY FACILITIES

      7. THE RIGHT TO EMERGENCY SERVICES

      8. THE RIGHT TO VOTE

      10. THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

      11. THE RIGHT TO SURVIVAL PRACTICES

      The right to carry out practices necessary to survival within the law. While the Council strives for a city in which such practices are not necessary, we recognize that where people have no other option they will seek support from other people through begging or foraging for discarded food to survive. Such survival practices should not be criminalized as such, or banned, or arbitrarily confined to specific areas.

      12. THE RIGHT TO RESPECT FOR PERSONAL PROPERTY

      People who are homeless should have their belongings, including tents and sleeping bags, respected by everyone including public servants. They should never be damaged or thrown away or be removed without compelling need, and if they are removed they should be made available for collection without charge.

      13. THE RIGHT TO LIFE

      The right to life requires public authorities to take measures to preserve life. When people who are homeless (including people in emergency accommodation) die, the Council is committed to ensuring that their deaths are recorded as such, and that in each case there is a reasonably public investigation in order to understand the causes of death and what might have prevented it.

      • Rachel S Reply

        Yes this is correct. If someone is an alcoholic or drug addict as many people are. Often due to no fault of their own through prescriptions drugs of course people don’t have an issue with them if they do not let it infringe on the rights of others to work. The issue we have is the commercial town centre having junkies begging for fixes every 15 meters. These people are although not always are often dangerous. My staff have needles waved at them when opening up. They leave detritus and make the place feel unsafe and unpleasant for shoppers who then start to avoid the area. Other towns don’t feel this way as they manage the problem properly. The addicted junkies will never seek support if they have a ready supply of drugs accessed by the money from begging. Not my word the word of almost all homeless support charities. They aren’t starving. This isn’t Bangladesh there is free food for hungry people and the council has an obligation to provide housing as well. The council is also creating publicity which is attracting more down here. The Big Issue have been publicising this new policy for Brighton. If you were a junkie where would you go Brighton or Bournemouth. Obvioulsy Brighton as the council have said they will let you beg. This no doubt will also impede Brighton councils ability to help those already here if we are advertising that we are now the junkie tourism capital of the UK.

  6. Jon Reply

    I don’t understand why the Tory Councillor is not complaining to the Tory PCC Katy Bourne. It’s the Police’s job to enforce the law on begging and in the last Police Plan they said they were going to stop responding and leave it to other agencies, Does the council have it’s own Police force ?

    I searched the document and the only mention of tents is:=
    ” People who are homeless should have their belongings, including tents and sleeping bags, respected by everyone including public servants ”

    So IMO basically it’s the usual Tory Councillor Sunday column where whey complicated issues and write simple nonsense

  7. Jim Reply

    This just a step forward, giving homeless the same rights as we have who are housed, Its difficult to understand why a Tory Councillor would complain about the product of her party, Poverty is everywhere, foodbanks ques miles long. Numbers of homeless set to hit 250,000 in England alone by 2022, Private Landlords reaping the benefits by offering temp/emergency accommodation athuge fees. I run Sussex Homeless Support we are totally volunteer driven we have a Zero in our wage line,,,,I don’t want to see beging same as I don;t want to see foodbanks or run street kitchens, but the answer s not to try and ban them its to work a system to help. I see comments above about Los Angeles, I walked 5th and 6th street commonly known as Skid Row, I have seen just how bad this can get and it is insane. There is a plan, but every time the community tries to bring it in we get pushed back by those who ae making millions from the homeless, I lost count at 70 milion spent locally, thats our money spent, and the claim “End Homeless 2020”!!! How can we believe this government when it claims one thing while selling off everything not bolted to the floors, all our future that our kids will inherit will be sold off to pay for their mistakes. The Homeless Bill of Rights is a statement it joins Brighton and Hove with other cities in the world and starts a plan to force the governments to provide accommodation, it means they will have to build quality housing and social rents which will take away the debt trap where people cannot affoard to work because their rent is so high they are trapped on benefits, its a long uphill fight we face and the answer is 100% with the community and we have the best caring community in England, yes we are the City of Sanctuary what an amazing award what a great announcment to send round the world, now lets unite as a community take control and solve the crisis of homelessness before we have our own Skid Row..I am supporting The Homeless Bill of Righs…

    • Esther Reply

      Jim, you mention a 250,000 figure for those who are “homeless” in all the U.K. Just for the record, the number living rough is more like 5,500. The rest do have a roof over their heads, paid for out of public funds and charities. It’s not great but the system is not inhuman as it is already trying its best to help these people. But drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally unstable people are incredibly difficult to help. If you watched the recent TV programme “What’s The Matter with Tony Slattery” you get the sinking feeling that, if someone with his friends network, talent and caring partner can’t kick destructive behaviours then so many sad cases really are hopeless.
      Also, there are no “food bank queues miles long” in the U.K. I have seen pictures of car lines that are miles long in the USA waiting for food parcels because of COVID unemployment. But that’s another country without a Welfare State and then with a pandemic crisis.

  8. Greens (and all of them) Out Reply

    Jim. Your’re part of the problem. But, as you alluded to in a discussion I had with you some time ago. By ALLOWING this you will encourage more to come and the problem snowballs.

    Then the council, effing useless buch of nobodies that they are, bleat to central Govt for yet more funding (see the reort on this site from last Thursday) despite being able to show any improvement on the situation with the outrageous funding they’ve already received.

    As for this statement from David “not treated as a nuisance or a problem” but they ARE!

    I had family over from Australia, who grew up in Brighton, to visit in 2019. They were horrified at how this town has become. I couldn’t disagree with them.

    It is a Police issue and there are far many acts of law that can be used over and above the, still very valid, Vagrancy Act, unfortunately successive councils have not only allowed but welcomed these street dwellers. There are just too many now to deal with. Especially when every leftie idiot in town wants to hold some pointless protest every weekend tying up more police resources.

    Seriously.

    This council have lost the plot and needs to be disbanded and have some adults put in to actually run a £ 1 BILLION per annum budget. The Greens and Labour (and the Conservative) Councillors are just not fit for purpose.

  9. just an average person Reply

    I have an idea, how about the right for these people to work and then they can all what you want to give them and more, even some self respect.
    If some of you disagree with the right to work and fend for your self, then I feel we are all heading for a big fall in the future as at some stage the money will run out to fund all those who do not work.
    Please feel free to tell me I am wrong.

  10. j Reply

    All we do is keep feeding and clothing the homeless, we support them even more when they get a place, by doing what we do they have a chance to change, many hve just hit a bump in the road and we see that every day as they climb back with a little help, its not a Brighton problem its nationwide, look at any city Bristol Birminghame Manchester Leeds it everywhere, its time to stop thinking its only here, I recently sat through a Government supported and attended conference, there were serious people talking about 2million homelessby 2030, most will be living in emergency accommodation most will be families, I agree with you I have been in Brighton nearly 40yrs and seen the changes some good but as you say many bad, I do believe there is solutions out there and the community hold the biggest answers, they are kind and they want to help, that needs to be harnessed, Local Gov are just going through the motions while lining their own pockets, much of the Government awarded money is thrown away or filtered back to themselves, I want to end homelessness nothing more, I am happy to retire, but if you look at where the money goes to these big agencies would they say the same with their multi million inthe banks and directors on 6 figures.

  11. Hove Guy Reply

    Many of these homeless people do not want to be housed in hostels, because of the strict regulations regarding alcohol, drugs, smoking and anti-social behaviour, and prefer to beg on the streets. This was highlighted by a programme on BBC last year, where interviews took place in Brighton. So what is the point of spending money on providing accomodation for them, if they continually refuse to comply with those regulations that are there to protect them and others in the building?

    • Daniel Harris Reply

      Many don’t want to move into hostels because of the state of them, the presence of security and no support workers, full of drugs and issues they would rather sleep on the street!

      The issue and its been raised there is a lot of money mostly being spent with little real result, most are being placed in private sector rental as per the bhcc procedure, that is where most new homelessness cases come from.

      Homelessness can affect anyone, we should have a right to a warm, safe and affordable home. This goes for everyone. A society is only as strong as those at the bottom of pile, which is sadly the issue for too long they have been seen as cash cows locally, or roving doors / written off as unhelpable.

      Ive seen loads turn their lives around and am proud to see each one of them move on. They get stronger when unpaid advocates help them when well funded organisations often don’t wanna know.

      Hear so much against vulnerable homeless, nowt against 4% Affordable Homes Delivered, the 5000k Londoners who move here annually, the empty homes, the land banking, the giving away and selling off of assets, right to buy.

      These are all issues which need fixing in addition to the services we provide.

      • Greens Out Reply

        You were doing so well…….then this rubbish…

        5000k Londoners who move here annually

        • Wink wink Reply

          Thanks. I Meant 5k typo excuse me.

  12. Esther Reply

    The conversation here has moved away from the question about whether allowing people to pitch their tents in our most visible spaces in Brighton and Hove is a good idea or not. Everyone can claim to have “rights” and that includes the majority who have the right to live in, or visit, a clean and orderly environment. We all know that we must do our best to help those less fortunate but “virtue signalling” isn’t an answer.

    If anyone can pitch a tent on Hove Lawns, or park their camper-van at the King Alfred with being ticketed, then why not become a camper holidaymaker here? “Come to Sunny Brighton where you can take your free accommodation onto the seafront with toilets and showers provided, and nearby food shops and take-away hot meals. There are even a few places where you can charge your mobile phones, if you know where to look. But, be warned, the Council forbids you to use a BBQ on the beach because it would cause Global Warming”.

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