Tackling homelessness properly
I’d like to address a recent story about homelessness in Shrewsbury town centre, writes Chief Superintendent Kevin Purcell.
The issue of homelessness is an emotive one, and where we see people begging as a result of being homeless there are always differing views on how this should be tackled.
In leading policing in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin my absolute priority is protecting those who are most vulnerable and we will be judged on the work we do to make sure they are supported, where police intervention is not appropriate, making sure they are signposted to the appropriate agencies is absolutely crucial and we will always do this as a first option.
We work very closely with Shropshire Council to address homelessness in the town centre to make sure people who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not having a home are given the appropriate support they need. Housing issues primarily fall under the council’s jurisdiction and I know Shropshire Council has a range of intervention measures in place that have our full support.
The work Shropshire Council is doing in keeping the number of homeless people in the town comparatively low is tremendous. The reality is at the time of writing there are a small number of people who are officially classed as homeless in Shrewsbury. I’m confident Shropshire Council do all they can to offer support to those who find themselves homeless, however, as a partnership we’re not complacent and there is always more that can be done.
I know this is not the case for all incidents, but very often we find someone is begging to fund alcohol or drug abuse. Unfortunately, the town is a desirable place for people begging for money, people in the town are generous in many ways and I see it as no coincidence that many of the people begging in the town are often situated near to banks and areas of high footfall.
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It is not for me to tell people what to do with their money. However, I do know there is the Alternative Giving Scheme which sees boxes situated throughout the town centre where people can make donations to support the homeless, and in keeping with the modern world, these will soon offer the facility for people to make donations via contactless. Donations made to the Alternative Giving Scheme are distributed to charities in Shrewsbury.
The Alternative Giving Scheme, launched by Team Shrewsbury, continues to support Rough Sleepers by providing a means for the public to donate directly to Shrewsbury Ark, Street Pastors and the Rough Sleepers Taskforce. Donations can be made at collection boxes at The Square, Pride Hill, the railway station and Frankwell. In addition, the public can report concerns for a rough sleeper using Streetlink – streetlink.org.uk – or by calling 0300 5000 915.
In addition, the HOST (Homeless Outreach Street Triage) was re-launched in June, having seen considerable success in 2016.
This team brings together a combination of a mental health social worker, an outreach worker from Shrewsbury Ark, a housing officer from Shropshire Council, and a Police Community Support Officer to locate and visit rough sleepers across the county with the objective of quickly resolving barriers to support and accommodation.
Enforcement action by police should always be a last resort, we know there are often wider societal issues that need to be addressed first, but if a criminal offence has been committed or there are concerns around aggressive, violent or anti-social behaviour then we must take action.
We want people who live in, work in and visit Shrewsbury to be able to do so without fear of aggressive behaviour from a small minority of individuals and we know that our communities would expect us to do all we can to protect them.
Kevin Purcell, Chief Superintendent, West Mercia Police