AGGRESSIVE vagrants illegally begging and harassing people across Portsmouth will no longer be tolerated, a council boss has vowed.
Councillor Donna Jones has said the city council is now taking ‘a firmer approach’ to tackling the island’s homelessness crisis.
It comes amid an outcry from residents who have complained about the surge of beggars pestering people in the streets.
Cllr Jones said the authority would no longer be a ‘soft touch’ to outsiders intent on bringing criminality into the city – but that it would still do all it could to help those in genuine need.
A joint task force made up of councillors, police and NHS officials, has now been created to tackle the problem.
Their mission will be to help street-dwellers who are asking for support – and deal with those taking advantage and abusing the system.
Cllr Jones said: ‘Enough is enough. As a council we will always help those who genuinely want to engage with us.
‘But it’s become clear that the city has a number of professional beggars who aren’t homeless and aren’t living on the street but are bringing anti-social and criminal behaviour to Portsmouth.
‘We will no longer tolerate this. People have complained. It’s our duty as a council to protect city residents and those in need from the city.
‘This won’t be a hard line approach but it will be a firmer one.’
To kick-start the new effort, the council has met with police, the Crown Prosecution Service, probation services and NHS Solent to discuss the rough sleeper problem.
City leaders admitted there was no quick-fix solution and that any action would need to be lawful.
But Cllr Jones stressed the focus would now be on supporting those from the city who were homeless and turning away those travelling to the city from across the UK.
It’s hoped this would cut the demand on the city’s stretched housing support service.
So far, the new taskforce has agreed to take enforcement action against those who actively avoid engaging with support – although details of what this would mean have not been revealed.
Councillor Paul Godier, Portsmouth’s champion for homelessness, said the council was working with partners to tackle the problem ‘head on’.
But he said a ‘bespoke’ approach was needed to help each rough sleeper that took their situation and help they needed ‘into account’.
He added: ‘Through the intelligence we’ve collectively gathered over the past few years, we hope to put together a clear strategy that will make a big difference to this problem, both for the rough sleepers and for our residents.’
Superintendant Jason Kenny, of Hampshire police, said: ‘By engaging with rough sleepers and providing the appropriate support we can reduce their vulnerability, and ensure they’re safe and moving into a better situation.
‘We also want to make sure everyone in the city, be they residents or rough sleepers, feels safe, protected and able to go about their daily lives without fear of aggression or intimidation.’