BANNING begging in Worthing could increase problems with homelessness in Brighton and Hove, critics have warned.
Brighton and Hove City Council will be monitoring the numbers of beggars after Worthing Borough Council voted to introduce on the spot fines for aggressive beggars this week as opponents fear the ban could make matters worse in neighbouring areas.
The city council’s lead member for rough sleeping Clare Moonan told The Argus they would be taking note of the impact it has on Brighton and Hove, while other council sources said what happens outside the city boundaries can have a serious knock on effect.
Cllr Moonan said: “We are taking note of the numbers of beggars along with Sussex Police and will address any increase if it arises.
“We are working with partners across the city, building on existing provision and consulting widely with the aim of making sure no one needs to be sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove by 2020.
"There is major pressure on services and this is no easy task but we determined to do all we can."
Civil liberties campaigners said public spaces protection orders (PSPO), the order under which Worthing Borough Council is implementing the fines, in other parts of the country had been seen to push problems on to their neighbours.
Josie Appleton of Manifesto Club said: “Every area in the country where we have seen these orders in city centres we have seen the underlying issues moved to the suburbs or neighbouring cities.
“Obviously these orders are not solving the problems and the natural place for people from Worthing to go would be Brighton and Hove.
“Just because they are being fined doesn’t mean that these people suddenly aren’t homeless or in need of money any more.
“They are just pushing people out rather than getting to grips with the problem.”
Homeless campaigners have already expressed concerns that large numbers of homeless people are attracted to the city and have suggested those without local connections should be turned away.
Director of Brighton Housing Trust, Andy Winter, said: “Half the people on Brighton and Hove’s streets have no local connection.
“If homeless people were displaced from Worthing then they would also have no local connection.”
The problem of PSPOs displacing problems to neighbouring areas had been particularly seen in Hull, where the council later proposed to extend the area, and in Poole, where an order was deemed to have forced homeless people to other towns.
When Hackney council tried to impose a similar order criminal barrister Connor Johnston, who specialises in homelessness said: “The effect of it is simply going to be to shunt homeless people to another borough.
“This won’t solve anything beyond making our streets a bit ‘shinier’ and will almost certainly just make it harder for those sleeping rough to access the support services they rely on.”
STORM OVER NEW POWERS TO CRIMINALISE VAGRANTS
THE PROBLEM of tackling begging has become a thorn in the side of police and politicians.
Sussex Police came under fire after The Argus revealed that plain clothed officers were being used to target beggars.
Our investigation uncovered that homeless beggars were frequently being fined by the courts, sparking criticism that homeless people were being criminalised by the policy.
Now, new powers introduced in Worthing will leave council officers free to issue £50 on-the-spot fines to beggars and has sparked an angry response and concerns that the most vulnerable people in society will be criminalised.
Opponents criticised the council for pushing through the plans based on anecdotes, raising concerns over whether the rules had justifiably been introduced on the basis of slim evidence.
Worthing’s council leader pushing for the ban said that the order was necessary because of a problem of “aggressive beggars” in the town centre. Yet Councillor Daniel Humphreys fought for the order based on just a single personal experience that he refused to give the details of.
He claimed businesses in the town had complained of aggressive beggars.
Councillor Humphreys also raised concerns that his “young daughter” would be scared to go into the town centre because of aggressive beggars before admitting to The Argus there had been no incidents involving his daughter – because she was too young to go into town alone.
Luke Angel, of Worthing People’s Assembly, which collected 5,000 signatures against the plans, said: “We are massively disappointed. We had 5,000 objecting and they haven’t listened.
“One of the examples they based this on was someone driving past someone who looked like they were aggressive begging. How reliable is that?”
Daniel Thompson from the group added: “It is moving to see that this issue has angered so many which shows the depth of feeling about treating our fellow human beings as people and not as pests that need to be dealt with and demonised.”
But how big a problem is aggressive begging and how can it be resolved?
The order would also ban “sitting or loitering for an unreasonable time”, “being in possession of a receptacle used to obtain monies for the purpose of begging” and even “the use of signage to solicit money”.
Andy Winter, of homeless charity Brighton Housing Trust, said people should not give money to beggars .
He said: “This is a really difficult issue, but ultimately if people stop giving them money it is the only way it will stop, not arresting them for a criminal offence and not imposing new orders.
“On the whole I don’t think there is any need for anyone to be begging. There are benefits available to people and enough charities who will support people.
“There is always help available. Giving money to people on the streets keeps them on the streets and some people will use that money to buy drugs and fund alcohol addictions.”
However, he added: “But whether there’s enough accommodation out there for all the people on the streets? No, there isn’t and that’s going to be a big concern.”
Brighton and Hove’s lead for rough sleeping, councillor Clare Moonan, said: “We encourage anyone considering giving to someone on the street to instead donate to a local charity providing outreach care for rough sleepers.
“This will help make sure funds are used in the best way to help as many people in need as possible.”
Experts at the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York have been researching the best way to tackle begging by studying enforcement of the street communities in Brighton, Birmingham, Leeds and two London boroughs.
They found that combining support services with policing and council enforcement did help but warned that legislating against street activities could not only move begging to other areas, but bans could also force homeless people into more serious crimes.
Sussex Police has said the order will not change the way they police begging in Worthing and that they “rarely criminalise” anyone for begging – however those unable to pay the £50 fines will be hauled before the courts and face a criminal conviction and a fine of £1,000.
The force said yesterday they supported the “partnership approach” to tackling begging but that they would use police powers to criminalise those committing persistent antisocial behaviour or with a history of criminality.
Inspector Allan Lowe said: “Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) are introduced by local authorities and primarily enforced by them.
“We have had a consistent approach to working with the street community in Worthing for many years and this will not change.
“Sussex Police rarely criminalises someone for begging using a host of other ways to deal with individuals who do not have a criminal history, such as cautions to community resolution but they are only available if there is no previous offending.
“Alongside other agencies and partners, we provide support for those in need and enforce where needed.”
Liberty has been campaigning against PSPOs, which they say breach human rights.
Legal officer Rosie Brighouse said: “PSPOs criminalise both the most vulnerable and those exercising their democratic right to protest. We urge any councils considering such orders to think again.
“If somebody is forced to beg, that’s not a lifestyle choice or anti-social behaviour – that’s extreme poverty.
“Local authorities should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable – not criminalise them and slap them with fines they can’t possibly pay.”
ORDERS DESIGNED TO COMBAT AREA’S SOCIAL ILLS
PUBLIC spaces protection orders (PSPOs) are like geographic antisocial behaviour orders, criminalising normally legal activities within a certain area.
They are normally enforced with on-the-spot fines, which can be issued by council officers like traffic wardens as well as the police.
Breach of an order is a criminal offence which can result in a court appearance and a fine of up to £1,000.
Oxford, Hackney and Newport councils have introduced PSPOs for begging.
Begging is already a criminal offence under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which also applies to vagabonds, pedlars and prostitutes behaving in a riotous and indecent manner.
Under the law, any person “placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms, or causing or procuring or encouraging any child or children so to do; shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.”
In 2003 the offence was made a recordable offence by then police minister Hazel Blears.