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Friday, 16 February 2018

Public outcry forces council to drop plans to fine rough sleepers

Written by Tess de la Mare

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has dropped plans to issue rough sleepers with fines if they refuse to engage with services, a campaigner has claimed.

A petition of more than 280,000 signatures was handed to council leader Simon Dudley on Thursday asking the council to drop plans to clear homeless people from the streets ahead of the royal wedding in May.

Mr Dudley (pictured) came under fierce criticism last month after he remarked that the number of rough sleepers would put Windsor in a "sadly unfavourable light" when it hosts Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials.

The Prince and Ms Markle are due to tie the knot at Windsor Castle on May 19.

The embattled council leader survived a vote of no confidence, and now the council is preparing a consultation to try and get the borough's 14 or so long-term rough sleepers off the streets.

Proposals include increasing the support available to those sleeping rough, with a 56-day window to get them into accommodation and support services for issues such as addiction and mental health.

Initial plans said that those who refused to engage would then be issued with a Community Protection Notice requiring them to engage with services or face a fine of up to £100.

On Thursday Holly Fishwick, a charity communications manager, presented Mr Dudley with her petition titled "Stop Windsor Council Removing Rough Sleepers" which has attracted 281,090 signatures on the Change.org website.

Following her meeting with Mr Dudley, Ms Fishwick revealed that the council has now rolled back on its plans to issue fines.

She said the council had reconsidered following the public outcry the plan caused when the proposal for the Rough Sleeping and Anti-Social Behaviour report was published on Monday.

Ms Fishwick said: "Rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour conflates two very different issues.

"There will now be two separate reports - a homelessness report and an anti-social behaviour report, both coming out in March."

Ms Fishwick said she had discussed a number of practical measures that the council could take such as lockers for rough sleepers to store their belongings in so they aren't left unattended on the street.

She also recommended more information for the public, telling them what to do to help homeless people, rather than a list of "Do nots" such as not to give money.

"I still want to know what will be covered in the anti-social behaviour report, my concern is it's going to cover things like begging. Mr Dudley makes the point Windsor is a tourist hotspot and he's concerned some people are commercial begging," she said.

"They need to be 100% these people are actually doing that and not punishing people who actually need help."

The council has said its plans aim to target what it describes as "aggressive or proactive begging" such as begging near a cash machine or in a manner "reasonably perceived to be intimidating or aggressive".

Other proposals under consideration are banning any verbal, non-verbal or written requests for money, and leaving bedding, personal belongings and other material in public places.

Mr Dudley was unavailable for comment.

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