A petition launched by the husband of South Shields’ MP Emma Lewell-Buck against claims that South Tyneside Council has the power to fine homeless people £100 if they accept food, drink or money, has divided opinion.
Simon Buck has set up the campaign against the council’s Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) being used to hand out any penalties.
The Labour-led authority says the fines will not be used against those in genuine need who “accept donations from kind-hearted people” and has help in place to ensure they get advice and support.
It says the powers are intended to protect residents from “professional beggars” clamp down on anti-social behaviour and will only be introduced where there is evidence of street drinking and professional beggars.
It says notices placed in parts of the borough where the orders can be imposed have been misinterpreted and have now been removed.
While some readers have continued to criticise the council for the move, others say it is doing the right thing.
How can you tell between a genuine homeless person and a professional beggar?James Lister
The petition started up by Mr Buck, which calls on the council to “treat the homeless with respect and dignity” has now been signed by more than 630 people.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I have publicly condemned the Government’s policy on PSPOs, including in one of my recent columns printed in the Gazette.
“I was very concerned that South Tyneside Council took the decision to implement these discretionary measures in such a negative way, issuing written warnings to homeless people who already have nothing.
“I was pleased to learn that the signs placed around the town have now been removed. “I am hopeful that the council will continue to review its policies, dealing appropriately with antisocial behaviour where it occurs, but first and foremost helping people genuinely in need into secure and sustainable accommodation rather than relying on the kindness of strangers.”
Councillor Allan West, the council’s lead member for housing and transport, said the claims in the petition are “entirely false” and the council says it was supported in the PSPO application by Northumbria Police.
South Tyneside residents have also had their say on the orders.
Jean Jamieson said on our facebook page: “It’s the professional beggars that the council are trying to get rid of.
“We have all seen and heard them playing their awful ‘music’ on piano accordions.
“It’s not quite the same as giving a drink and a sandwich to a homeless person.”
But James Lister said: “How can you tell between a genuine homeless person and a professional beggar?
“Maybe they should focus on the ever increasing shortage of social housing.”