The husband of South Shields’ MP Emma Lewell-Buck has accused South Tyneside Council of “social cleansing” for taking on the powers to fine homeless people who accept help from passing strangers.
Simon Buck has launched a petition against South Tyneside Council’s use of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) – which can result in £100 penalties being handed out to people who accept money, food or drink from strangers.
Council bosses say claims made in the petition are “entirely false” and they “never have and never will issue a fine to a genuinely homeless person for accepting donations from kind-hearted people.”
They say PSPOs are to combat street drinking and professional beggars in specific areas.
The orders are in place across the borough to ban people from drinking in designated streets and aim to tackle antisocial behaviour.
However, the rules also mean people could be given the fine or ordered from the area if they make “verbal, non-verbal or written requests for money, donations, or goods.”
Warning notices have appeared lampposts in areas which fall within the terms of an order.
Mr Buck calls in the petition for the Labour-led authority to “treat homeless people with respect and dignity” and rethink the penalties.
It has already been backed by more than 520 people.
He said: “If I see a homeless person I always buy them a warm drink and a sandwich but now I fear that my generosity could land them with a £100 fine.
“I believe this is nothing more than social cleansing.
“Genuine homeless people will be scared to come to Shields. A large number of homeless people have mental health issues or are unwell, I’ve even met homeless people with learning difficulties.
“This isn’t the way to treat the most vulnerable in our town and society.”
“The local authority’s response is that ‘they are trying to help homeless people’. I can’t understand how fining homeless people is helping them. I’ve started a petition, I hope you will all be able to sign it, share it with your friends.”
Coun Allan West, the council’s lead member for housing and transport, said: “The claims made in the petition are entirely false. These orders are in no way aimed at people in genuine hardship. Let me be clear, we never have and never will issue a fine to a genuinely homeless person for accepting donations from kind-hearted people.
“The Public Spaces Protection Orders are aimed at protecting the public. They can only be introduced where there has been evidence of street drinking and professional beggars targeting specific areas.
“However, we understand that some have misinterpreted the intention of the posters. We have taken on board people’s concerns and these posters are no longer in circulation.
“Homelessness does not go hand-in-hand with the issues being tackled with the protection orders.”
The petition can be found via http://bit.ly/2hn9JSb