Council leaders say petition against professional beggar fines is ‘nonsense’

Restricted order notices, Chapter Row South Shields

Restricted order notices, Chapter Row South Shields

Council chiefs have insisted they would not “demonise” homeless people in the borough.

The defence comes after Simon Buck launched the “treat homeless people with respect and dignity” petition in response to notices which went up in South Shields stating those who make requests for goods or money and accept donations could be fined £100.

Simon Buck has launched the petition against fines for the homeless if they accept food and drink from strangers.

Simon Buck has launched the petition against fines for the homeless if they accept food and drink from strangers.

But South Tyneside Council has said the message on the signs has been misinterpreted and that the Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are aimed at professional beggars and those committing antisocial behaviour.

The authority says the petition, signed by more than 1,150 people so far, is “inaccurate and misleading.”

The Gazette understands Mr Buck and his wife, South Shields Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who has lent him her support, have been sent a letter from the council, expressing disappointment and concerns about the petition.

Coun Allan West, lead member for housing and transport, said: “Let me be clear, neither I nor my fellow elected members would endorse any strategy that demonises homeless people.

Genuine homeless people do not fall into this category and we are extremely disappointed that the petitioner has jumped to this conclusion.

Councillor Allan West

“Homelessness is a situation that is all too easy to fall into particularly in these challenging times.

“These orders are not – and never have been – aimed at people in need.

“While I appreciate the gestures of giving homeless people some loose change or a cup of coffee, what they really need is a roof over their heads.”

He said council staff are on hand to help them find a home and work through their problems.

South Tyneside Councillor Allan West.

South Tyneside Councillor Allan West.

The PSPOs were brought in to areas six months ago following consultation.

Based on intelligence, police supported the orders where there was evidence of antisocial behaviour linked to street drinking and beggars targeting specific areas.

Coun West added: “As a family-friendly borough which provides a host of free family entertainment, we wanted to do everything in our power to protect residents, businesses and visitors from this type of behaviour.

“Genuine homeless people do not fall into this category and we are extremely disappointed that the petitioner has jumped to this conclusion.”

The Gazette has contacted Mr Buck about his petition without reply.

Mrs Lewell-Buck previously said she is concerned abut the measures and praised people for their “outpouring of compassion and care on this matter.”