Birmingham City Council have proposed implementing a Public Space Protection Order, which would cover central Birmingham and has the potential to be kept in place for three years, having a significant impact on those sleeping rough in our city.
Whilst BCC are promoting it as a means to deal with Anti-Social Behaviour, one has only to look at the detail of the PSPO, which can be found on the Birmingham Be Heard consultation website, to see how this could impact homeless people. A fine for obstructing a doorway or begging would be practically impossible for a homeless person to pay, inevitably leading therefore to a criminal conviction that would make it even harder for someone in already difficult circumstances to turn their life around. Prohibition of acts such as urinating in public might at first seem reasonable, until we take into account that there are no free 24hr public toilet facilities in Birmingham City Centre, leaving anyone sleeping on the street with little alternative overnight.
It has been suggested by Councillor John Cotton, who is leading on these proposals, that there is a bed in Birmingham for everyone who wants one. This is simply not the case; there are not enough beds for the number of people most recently recorded as sleeping rough in the city centre, and many overnight facilities have limitations, for example, being only available in cold weather, or being unable to take dogs(which many rough sleepers keep for security and companionship), and are nearly always full. It is difficult to see how these already over-stretched facilities will be able to cope with greater numbers, and also how they can truly manage individuals with complex mental or physical health needs, in what is meant to be temporary overnight accommodation. The Housing First initiative across the region only offered around 11 tenancies in Birmingham as of April 2019.
Say No to the Birmingham PSPO is a campaign group set up to challenge this issue, and can be found on FB, along with the link to the ongoing online petition: https://www.facebook.com/Say-No-to-the-Birmingham-PSPO-566984807156377/
On 21st May 2019, Say No to the Birmingham PSPO organised a well-attended lobby of the Birmingham City Council AGM in Victoria Square. Speakers opposing the PSPO included Councillor Majid Mahmood (Bromford and Hodge Hill), Councillor Kerry Jenkins (Kings Heath and Moseley), Simon Foster (Community Law Partnership), and Councillor Pete Lowe (Stourbridge and Lye, and prospective Labour candidate for West Midland Metro Mayor), in addition to Jo Shemmans, founder of the ‘Say No to the Birmingham PSPO’ campaign. There were also speakers from the homeless community and representatives from two of the biggest trade unions, Unite Regional Chair Asif Mohammed, and Unison Regional Secretary Ravi Subramanian, also gave their objections to the proposals.
The BCC consultation on the PSPO has closed, but is now being considered by the Housing and Neighbourhoods Scrutiny, chaired by Councillor Penny Holbrook. As the final decision has yet to be made, it is vital that anyone concerned about the implications make their voice heard. You can support the campaign by signing and sharing the petition above, and contacting local politicians to ask them to raise concerns on your behalf. As the Metro Mayor campaign gets underway, it would also be beneficial to challenge candidates who make homelessness one of their key issues to make public stance on the PSPO.
Say No to the Birmingham PSPO will continue to oppose this proposal, and updates, including details of future protest events, will appear on the ‘Say No to the Birmingham PSPO’ FB and Twitter page, so please sign up, and support them in speaking up for homeless people in Birmingham.
Don’t criminalise rough sleepers!
Birmingham City Council are proposing the implementation of a Public Space Protection Order across central Birmingham, which could be used to criminalise rough sleepers.
Most of us take for granted somewhere safe and warm to sleep, a nice cup of tea, a hot bath or shower, and somewhere to keep our possessions safely. Under these proposals, an individual could be fined for such actions as obstructing a doorway or footpath with their person or belongings, or begging, which could be something as simple as asking for a few pennies for a cup of tea or coffee. With no funds to pay such fines, this will inevitably lead to a criminal conviction, making it even harder for those already struggling to turn their lives around.
Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, and thanks to cuts to council budgets by the government, services that provide help to homeless people are at breaking point. There are often not enough temporary beds in the city, and homeless people often have complex needs that lead to them being without a fixed address. We know Birmingham City Council is struggling to provide support services as a result of this, but criminalisation is not the answer.
When combined with the implementation of universal credit, insecure private tenancies and a lack of social housing; the main clauses of the consultation will unquestionably affect the most vulnerable in society, whilst being economically ineffective and doing little to improve anti-social behaviour. As a city we need to stand against this. No-one should be punished for being homeless.
Liberty and the Community Law Partnership have written to the council opposing this proposal. We are asking them to scrap the PSPO, and instead work together will local homeless charities to help people back into accommodation and a safe environment, whilst allowing local law enforcement to deal with genuine anti-social behaviour using existing powers.
What can I do to help? Contact your local MP or Councillor and ask them to oppose the PSPO. You can also sign our petition at Change.org: ‘Say No to the Birmingham PSPO’.
Find us on FB and Twitter: ‘Say No to the Birmingham PSPO’
SAY NO TO THE BIRMINGHAM PSPO
(This event is supported by Unite Community Birmingham)