On Your Doorstep, OUSU’s official homelessness campaign, has launched a petition calling for Oxford city council to end the use of anti-social behaviour legislation to target rough sleepers.
The petition comes in response to news that the city council is issuing Community Protection Notices requiring rough sleepers to remove their belongings from the city centre and threatening them with fines of up to £2,500 for non-compliance.
In a response to the petition the council stated that it was a “fire safety issue”, and claimed that after “two days the owners removed all their belongings … No one was fined, and the fire escape is no longer blocked.”
The council further responded that: “We take this national homelessness tragedy that is playing out on the streets of our city very seriously… On this occasion we had to balance the desire for people to leave their possessions in a fire escape with the risk this posed to the people working in the building.”
However, the petition points to the fact that Community Protection Notices are typically used for anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti and dog fouling. The petition further claims that: “By issuing [the notices] to rough sleepers, the city council is classing rough sleeping as an anti-social “choice”, when in fact it is those with no remaining options who end up on the streets.”
Under the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, Community Protection Notices may be issued to an individual when their conduct “is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality, and the conduct is unreasonable.”
Criticising the council’s actions, On Your Doorstep said: “The homeless are often ignored or treated as an “eyesore”, especially in a rich city such as Oxford. Criminalising them just makes their lives harder, and they eventually are issued fines they cannot afford to pay, which will merely increase the behaviour of “aggressive begging” which the council seeks to end.”
The campaign further suggested that in targeting rough sleepers through Community Protection Notices, the council is failing to recognise the “wider issue of Oxford’s housing crisis and the lack of adequate provision from homelessness services”. Noting that Oxford’s budget for homelessness services was recently cut by 65%, resulting in the closure of two homelessness projects, Simon House and Julian Housing which are set be decommissioned in April 2018, and the reduction of the number of beds from 286 to 141.
Jeevan Ravindran, chair of On Your Doorstep, told Cherwell: “We at On Your Doorstep started this petition because the homeless shouldn’t be classed as behaving ‘antisocially’, which is what community protection notices suggest.
“Although the city council does great work for the homeless, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen them take the wrong measures – in 2015, they tried to illegalise rough sleeping [through Public Space Protection Orders], a move which we managed to successfully prevent.
“Although they’ve responded saying that this is a fire safety issue, there’s a wider problem of using anti-social behaviour legislation to deal with rough sleepers and we won’t back down until we receive a commitment from them confirming that they will no longer do this.”
The petition had 613 supporters at the time of writing. It can be found here: https://www.change.org/p/oxford-city-council-stop-targeting-oxford-s-rough-sleepers