New campaign to support rough sleepersSafer Stronger North Somerset
A campaign to raise awareness of how to help people sleeping rough in Weston-super-Mare has been launched.
North Somerset Council is leading a multi-agency drive to:
- encourage people to give responsibly to support rough sleepers
- raise awareness of the support that is available to rough sleepers and how to access that support.
Signs are being put up in the High Street with information on how to support people sleeping rough. They urge people to help rough sleepers by giving to local homeless charities rather than to beggars on the street.
The signs say that anyone concerned about a rough sleeper should contact StreetLink, the national rough sleeping helpline, on 0300 500 0914 which alerts local services to them. They also point out that begging is a crime and can be reported to the police on 101 or to a street warden.
In addition, a multi-agency day of action was held on one of the late-night shopping days in the run-up to Christmas. This involved police, council officers, street wardens and local charities talking to rough sleepers and beggars and offering the appropriate support and advice, and also visiting local businesses in the town centre to promote StreetLink.
The council works with the homeless charity St Mungo’s and the YMCA to identify rough sleepers and provide them with the support they need. A weekly count is undertaken in the town centre area with the last two counts identifying three rough sleepers.
The agencies working together to support homeless people have also identified that there are some people begging in the town who have accommodation and refuse any support offered to them.
“Begging is not the same as rough sleeping,” said Cllr Felicity Baker, the council’s executive member for community safety. “While there are some rough sleepers in Weston, there are also cases of people who are not homeless and are begging on the streets, sometimes aggressively, just to make money.
“There are dedicated charities offering support to rough sleepers so, if you want to help them, please donate to these charities rather than giving to individuals. And, if you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, please contact StreetLink who will help connect them with the local support services that are available.”
Neighbourhood Inspector Sharon Bennett said: “Most people have some sympathy for people who are homeless. However, please don’t let this put you off reporting someone who is begging aggressively and making people feel intimidated to the police or a street warden.
“A report may not lead to police action – our officers do use their discretion when dealing with vulnerable people. They have options including asking the person to move on, issuing an on-the-spot fine for a public order offence, or arrest. If there are genuine concerns for someone’s welfare we’ll raise the issue with support services rather than taking enforcement action.
“However, when someone is found to be causing harassment, alarm or distress by begging aggressively, or can be shown to be trying to obtain money by falsely claiming to be homeless, we will take action against them.”
Insp Bennett added that police officers and PCSOs will check on rough sleepers’ welfare while on patrol and work closely with the council and support services such as St Mungo’s, the YMCA and Addaction.
Anyone who is homeless, threatened with homelessness or just wanting advice on the housing options available to them should visit the council’s housing advice drop-in at the Town Hall in Weston any time between 8.45am and 4.15pm Monday to Friday.
“As a council our priority is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place,” said Cllr Baker. “If you have an issue with your housing you should speak to us as soon as possible. The earlier you let us know the more we can do to help.”