Homelss man in St Giles, Oxford“Oxford City Council is proposing a ban on rough sleeping” was the rather alarming claim on an online petition request that popped into my In Box yesterday (8th April 2015).

The the plight of homeless people, including rough sleepers, is a cause close to my heart, so I decided to investigate.

The claim revolves around a proposal for something called a Public Spaces Protection Order. There wasn’t a huge amount of information on the City Council website. PSPOs are a device for giving councils powers to ban certain types of behaviour that is deemed to be “antisocial” and there is a consultation, but it finished on 31st March.

The Oxford Mail was a bit more forthcoming. There are some worrying aspects to the proposal, not least that what constitutes “antisocial behaviour” is decided by officers and can be approved on the say so of a single councillor, although it seems that some proposals will be open to public consultation. The initial proposal includes littering, dog-fouling and drinking in public, which, to the best of my knowledge are already banned, but that’s another story.

Furthermore, City Councillor Bob Price is quoted as saying specifically “… we will not be using them in relation to homeless people. Being forced onto the streets is not anti-social behaviour”. At this point, I was starting to get a bit confused, so wrote to the Council for clarification.

we will not be using them in relation to homeless people

Darryl from the Council wrote back almost immediately to say that the report on the proposal would be made available on 6th May, but didn’t furnish any further details. Meanwhile, a statement appeared on the Council website – It is also untrue that the proposed Order would ‘criminalise’ rough sleeping” but “a small number of people continue to beg and sleep on the city’s streets despite receiving support and having been allocated accommodation. It is only that behaviour that would be covered by the proposed PSPO.

Whilst I’m not the City Council’s greatest fan, they have a track record of constructive support for homeless people and the organisations that work to alleviate homelessness. I’ve also seen at first hand the generosity and commitment of student members the Homelessness Action Group to fund raising and practical support for homeless and vulnerably housed people.

So where did the “ban on rough sleeping” come from? The petition is sponsored by the “On Your Doorstep Campaign” which turns out to be run under the auspices of Oxford University Student’s Union. You would think that, being undergraduates at a world class university, they would quote their source.

In the light of today’s statement from the Council, it seems that both sides could justify their claims. Who’s right? And what’s the right thing to do?

– On Your Doorstep Campaign
Oxford University Homelessness Action Group
Article on PSPOs, Oxford Mail, 18th Oct 2014
Statement on City Centre Public Space Protection Order Consultation, Oxford City Council , 9th April 2015