The homeless need help, not to be criminalised

The Highfield Campus at the University of Southampton, which is home to the George Thomas Building. Picture: Geograph

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as their budgets have been cut, the police, in recent years, have been keen to highlight the responsibilities they find themselves with that lie outside the traditional field of law and order.

A few years ago there was a concerted push to highlight the number of people with mental health issues who were finding themselves in the criminal justice system – for example, locked up in cells for the night when a hospital might have been a better place for them. One of the police’s arguments at the time was that they were picking up the pieces of an over-stretched NHS, and it was hard to quibble with that.

Now, the subject is the homeless, and specifically those who find themselves unfortunate enough to be living on the streets in the centre of Portsmouth.

Today Simon Hayes, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner, hits back at a suggestion by Portsmouth Tory councillor Luke Stubbs that the police should do more to tackle the problem.

Cllr Stubbs wrote to Mr Hayes asking for more patrols, and suggested that the increase in homelessness could be a reason behind a decline in the number of people going into the city centre in the first two months of this year.

Mr Hayes has responded by saying that it is not an issue purely to be tackled by the police, and points to other areas where levies are imposed on businesses to fund patrols – saying that that is the way forward. Up to a point he’s right, but we would suggest that criminalising the homeless at all is the wrong way to go.

There needs to be more help, and more accommodation available – that is where money would be better spent. Nobody makes the lifestyle choice to become homeless, and there are many stories of people who never dreamed that they would end up on the streets but have in fact found themselves sleeping rough.

Simply moving people on or imposing fines will not work – that will just lead to more begging to pay those fines. Giving a steady place to stay and the chance of getting a foothold back in life is the much better option.