COUNCILS should be working to help people in need and not criminalise them.
That is the message from Simon Hayes, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire.
It comes as Portsmouth City Council’s deputy leader Luke Stubbs called on him to do more to tackle rough sleepers in the city.
Mr Hayes said: ‘I encourage councils to work in partnership with agencies and charities to support these vulnerable individuals.
‘In Southampton, the council applies a Night Time Levy to businesses such as nightclubs, which is used to fund additional patrols across the city. Winchester City Council uses funding from local businesses to provide dedicated PCSOs for the city centre.
‘Councils have the responsibility to work with people in need, using appropriate social resources, rather than criminalising them.’
He said neighbourhood patrols are already working to help rough sleepers.
He added: ‘However, councils must decide whether it is a priority for them to provide support to these vulnerable people, and not expect hard pressed police officers to deal with homelessness.’
And Phil Allison, who runs Fagins cafe in Charlotte Street, off Commercial Road, said rough sleepers are damaging trade.
He is sympathetic to those in need but said the council, not police, should do more.
‘It’s driving trade away,’ Mr Allison said.‘The police can’t do everything.
‘To me it’s just the council passing the buck to the police.’
When he called on Mr Hayes to do more, Cllr Stubbs said there had been a dramatic increase in begging, rough sleeping and shoplifting in Commercial Road in the past four to five months.
He said the council is encouraging traders to report crimes to police and is advising rough sleepers on where they can get accommodation.
In a statement the council said: ‘The council can give someone a banning letter if they are causing a problem on council land or property. We can’t do this if the problem is being caused on private property, like a shop doorway.
‘A letter can refuse them access to a particular area or building or restrict what they can do in that location. Our community wardens have issued six banning letters to individuals since November. Most of these have applied to the Guildhall Square area.’
The council can apply for civil injunctions if banning letters are unsuccessful.