Chichester City Council has defended the ‘no rough sleeping’ signs outside its headquarters.
The signs have been in place under the Council House archways, in North Street, since before Christmas.
Pictures of them were posted on the Chichester Observer’s Facebook page - The News’ sister paper - and drew an angry reaction, with many of more than 100 commenters accusing the council of being ‘heartless’ and ‘out of order’.
In a statement, Chichester City Council said: ‘The portico of the Council House has been a place used by rough sleepers for some time and many of them have become known to the duty staff who have always treated them with kindness and respect, supplying hot drinks, food and clothing.
‘A tolerant, live and let live attitude has been adopted by the city council to this very real problem.
‘In recent months, a new group of sleepers started using the portico as a storage area for personal items and over a short period of time staff were verbally abused and in one case threatening behaviour was used against a member of staff to which zero tolerance was applied.
‘The mayor witnessed a young person visiting the building for an evening function receiving unwarranted attention from this group and consumption of alcohol was also taking place under the portico.
‘This led to the mayor, through the town clerk, seeking advice and guidance from district council colleagues and police and a decision was made to prohibit rough sleeping there.
‘It is a situation that will be kept under review, but the Council House portico cannot be seen as providing a permanent solution to the problem.’
The statement added that the city council supports any action that can be taken to alleviate the issue of rough sleeping in the city, but does not have legal powers in relation to housing.
Last year saw a 30 per cent rise in rough sleepers across the south-east, and Chichester has seen a noticeable rise in people living on the streets this winter.
Over the weekend a homeless man was attacked as he slept in the doorway of Gold Arts. According to police, two men were arrested and charged and appeared in court on Monday.
‘City councillors Clare Apel and Martyn Bell are trustees of (homeless charity) Stonepillow and are well aware of the reality of what is going on in Chichester,’ the city council statement said.
‘They will be arranging for the newly appointed director of Stonepillow to meet with members of the city council shortly to discuss the options available, a critical issue being the lack of overnight accommodation available.’
Amanda Looker was among those who criticised the signs on the Observer Facebook page.
She said: ‘Nobody should be sleeping rough. There should be no need for these signs.
‘I am sure people wouldn’t mind their tax bring spent on giving people a warm safe place to stay instead of local government dinners and social expenses.’
Mark Hitchin said: ‘Agree you can’t have homeless people sleeping there but that sign would be a lot more useful if it gave the address of nearby hostels a very short walk away.’