Oxford City Council 'criminalising homelessness'

image captionCampaigners say the council is trying to cover up Oxford's housing crisis

A petition urging Oxford City Council to scrap plans to ban rough sleeping in the city has gained 65,000 signatures.

The proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) would ban certain anti-social activities in the city centre and fine those who breach the order.

Opponents say the PSPO would effectively criminalise homelessness and is an attempt by the council to "cover up" the city's housing crisis.

Oxford City Council already spends more than £1m on homelessness support.

It said the claim about the order criminalising homelessness was "untrue".

The petition was set up by Oxford University Student Union group On Your Doorstep, which aims to raise awareness of homelessness.

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image captionThe council says it wants to tackle persistent antisocial behaviour that can spoil the city centre

Its statement said: "Criminalising rough sleeping in the city centre will only increase (already high) levels of stigma surrounding Oxford's homeless population.

"It risks treating rough sleepers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings."

A council spokesman said: "Oxford City Council spends over £1m on support for homelessness. It is wrong to suggest the proposed PSPO would change any of that support. It is also untrue that the proposed order would 'criminalise' rough sleeping.

"A small number of people continue to beg and sleep on the city's streets despite receiving support and having been allocated accommodation. It is only that behaviour that would be covered by the proposed PSPO."

Alex Kennedy, campaign manager for homeless charity Crisis, said: "I don't know exactly the individuals that the council are speaking about but if people have been offered accommodation and are still sleeping rough... often there are understandable reasons for that.

"Some people who have had previous drug and alcohol problems don't then want to spend time in a hostel if lots of the people they will be living with have got drug and alcohol problems themselves.

"I just want to question why it might be that somebody who has seemingly been given an offer of shelter is sleeping on the streets. I would want to look into the reasons for that rather than think fining is going to solve the problem."

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