Birmingham & Black Country

Begging could be banned from Birmingham city centre

Jo Shemmans Image copyright Carl Jackson
Image caption Jo Shemmans said "sleeping in a doorway and asking for a cup of tea are not crimes"

Birmingham could ban begging from its city centre as part of a bid to curb anti-social behaviour.

The city council is considering implementing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to prohibit begging, obstructing footpaths and street-drinking.

But demonstrators say the measure will "criminalise the homeless".

The proposal will be discussed by councillors on 4 June after the end of public consultation.

The number of rough sleepers in Birmingham increased by 60% last year, and figures show there are 4,677 across England.

A three-year PSPO would give police officers powers to disperse individuals and groups and issue fines.

The council said complaints over crime and anti-social behaviour had increased "significantly" over the last 12 months.

But Jo Shemmans, from Birmingham Unite Community, said: "Sleeping in a doorway is not a crime if you don't have a home, asking for a few pence for a cup of tea is not a crime if you don't have recourse to public funds.

"We accept that Birmingham City Council want to keep our streets safe, but we don't feel that homeless people should bear the brunt," she told 50 people outside the council offices at a protest in Victoria Square on Tuesday.

Image copyright Helping the Homeless in Birmingham
Image caption Kane Walker died while sleeping rough in Birmingham in January

Councillor Majid Mahmood is one of a group of members who oppose the plan.

He said: "The council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable. It should not criminalise them and slap them with fines they can't possibly pay."

Birmingham City Council said the PSPO was "not designed to target homelessness or rough sleeping".

"This proposal has been made following a significant increase in incidents, public complaints and intelligence reports that have been received by the council over the past 12 months regarding crime and anti-social behaviour and the increase in youth violence in the city," a statement said.

"Having this PSPO in place will help us to protect the public, which includes the homeless community."

The area covered by the order would extend across the city centre from the Jewellery Quarter to Digbeth.

Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne called for tougher action to stop people from becoming homeless, which he called a "moral emergency", following the death of rough sleeper Kane Walker near the Bullring in January.

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