This month, Chelmsford City Council introduces a new approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour and nuisance begging in the city centre by introducing Community Protection Warnings to try to stop unduly threatening or intimidating behaviour, while also encouraging those who are begging in order to fund addictions to sign up for rehab.
Begging and soliciting money in a threatening or intimidating way is becoming a major problem in Chelmsford city centre. This summer, the Council has received an unusually high number of complaints about antisocial behaviour, including people approaching lone pedestrians at night and asking for money, using abusive language and sitting beneath cash machines.
Councillor Susan Sullivan, Cabinet Member for Safer Communities, said, "Antisocial behaviour and begging are separate issues to homelessness. There are people living on the streets who have serious personal and financial problems, most of whom do not behave aggressively, and we are constantly working with our partner organisations to offer them help and shelter. However, we cannot expect residents and visitors to tolerate anti-social, abusive, frightening or harassing behaviour being carried out by a small minority, and this is what we are seeking to stop."
In August, the Council supported local charity CHESS Homeless' Spare Change or Real Change? campaign, which asked passers-by to volunteer or donate to homelessness charities rather than giving money. Many people who beg do so to fund an addiction. Money from begging is spent on fuelling the addiction, a vicious cycle which then leads them to beg more and, in some cases, behave aggressively. Even after being housed, some people continue to beg to support drug or alcohol habits.
To disrupt this cycle, the Council will issue Community Protection Warnings to individuals, which may lead to prosecution if antisocial behaviour continues. When someone known to have an addiction is given one of the notices, they will be given the option to avoid further action by signing up to a rehab programme. People begging in Chelmsford have already received verbal warning of the new approach.
Councillor Sullivan said, "To help people with addictions off the streets for good, it is essential to disrupt the cycle which fuels the habit. It is also essential to discourage behaviour which causes distress to others, particularly to more vulnerable members of the community.
"These notices will allow the Council and other agencies to respond to each case individually by assessing whether the person's behaviour is unacceptable. We can then consider their particular circumstances in how the notice is worded, rather than relying on blanket legislation like Public Space Protection Orders. Where people need support, we can use the notice to encourage them to use the help available.
"The notices are not targeted against homelessness - our duty and wish is to help people in difficult circumstances. Most people who become homeless do not beg, and we know that some people begging aggressively in Chelmsford are not genuinely homeless. We are enforcing against antisocial behaviour which a number of people - both homeless and non-homeless - are currently engaging in around the city centre."
Tuesday 5 September 2017