Update on Hackney's Public Space Protection Order
The issue of Hackney Council’s Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which includes a provision on rough sleeping, is continuing to cause significant concern amongst some residents, and amongst campaign groups. I am not surprised that people are worried by what they have read. It is the job of a local council, and especially one with the values that Hackney Council holds, to protect the most vulnerable. If people think we are targeting instead of protecting those people, they are right to express concern. However, this is not what the PSPO is designed to do.
The PSPO is not about ‘criminalising the homeless’. Anyone sleeping rough in Hackney is always offered the support and help that they need, firstly to get a roof over their heads in temporary accommodation, and then to help them get a permanent home. People who have found themselves being evicted, who have fallen on tough times and ended up sleeping rough are always helped. The Council has no intention of fining or taking action against these people.
The rough sleeping provision in the PSPO is designed to tackle a handful of entrenched rough sleepers who have repeatedly and over a long period resisted all attempts to house them and help them, and who are causing serious problems for other residents with anti-social behaviour including drug use, drunkenness, public urination and defecation, and threatening behaviour. These are people who often have serious addiction and mental health problems but have repeatedly failed to engage with the services which could help them. In some of these very difficult cases, the threat of legal action has been the push that has persuaded them to seek the help that they so desperately need. That’s why what we are doing is being supported byThames Reach, the homelessness charity that works with us to provide a specialist outreach service.
Of course there is no point fining people who can’t pay, and we will not seek to do this. The point of this is to push people into treatment, and if necessary we would seek injunctions rather than fine. In the past we have been praised by judges by the support we offer to vulnerable people in anti-social behaviour cases.
Some people have argued that we don’t need extra powers, and that the police can deal with this kind of anti-social behaviour already. In the context of falling police numbers, it is unfortunately the case that the police do not have the resource to deal with these issues with these issues on a daily basis. Police numbers in Hackney have fallen from 785 officers to below 600 since 2010 and we are feeling the impact of this. The powers in the PSPO will give our wardens what they need to act, alongside support services, as we work to balance our efforts to support the vulnerable, with our duty of care to all Hackney residents and their right to live in a safe, non-threatening environment.