A city in the U.K. has come up with an ingenious manner to solve the “problem” of homeless people, and that is to simply ban them.
It’s a novel idea, but Newport City Council seem determined to push forward with a measure so that hordes of happy consumers can enjoy their spending sprees and eat their Big Mac meals in peace, untarnished by the ghastly sight and stench of some raggedy tag homeless person.
In an economic age which favors the ruthless and exploits the poor, every city in this “uncivilized” world has its “unfair” share of inhabitants who have no option but to bunk down every night on a cold dirt pavement littered with beer cans, cigarette ends, used condoms, yesterday’s takeaways, vomit, blood, fast-food wrappers, and the occasional cardboard box.
Devoid of all creature comforts, ravaged by the elements, prone to attack by psychotic strangers, and at the mercy of fickle fate, sleeping rough may not be at the top of everyone’s bucket list, but with all the accumulated wisdom of a bunch of overpaid bureaucrats, Newport City Council are courting controversy by banning homeless people from the Welsh city centre in time for the opening of a new mall later this month.
It’s not the first time a city council in the U.K. have considered shielding the shopper from the sight of some unwashed and unfashionable homeless person. Banning poor people was debated in earnest by Oxford and Hackney in East London, but councillors felt it was a step too far in the direction of creating a Hunger Games-type society.
Yet keen to blaze a trail and to prevent the sacred inner sanctum of their new shopping mall from being riddled with the homeless and littered with the “obligatory” dogs on string and begging bowls, Newport City Council have shown a fierce tenacity to come down hard on these roofless rogues by banning them from their mecca to commerce, and if these hapless hobos do not choose to go gently into that good night, they can be fined up to £1,000 or be put into prison.
Rough Sleepers Cymru, The Wallich, Shelter Cymru, and Llamau are deeply concerned at the approval of the future use of the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), and many have attacked the decision with one critic on change.org, branding it as “social cleansing.”
“Rather than criminalizing people for being homeless and trying to hide them from sight, Newport Council should be coming up with constructive ways to support people that find themselves homeless.
“This policy aims to sweep a social problem under the rug and victimize homeless people – some of the most vulnerable in our community. I for one think it is out of order, at its simplest it is social cleansing.”
The Guardian reports that homeless charities have slammed the charities for putting commercial interests ahead of compassion and for valuing human lives lower than that of a gleaming new shopping centre.
The Wallich drop-in centre has helped 267 people in Newport over the last year, and the charity’s chief executive Antonia Watson believes that the vast majority of people sleep rough because they have no choice.
“We’re busy here every day. A large proportion of those we help have severe health problems or mental health issues. Some have drugs and alcohol problems, others have suffered family breakdowns.
“The council provides 125 beds for rough sleepers but many of these tend to go to those whose needs are deemed a priority, such as abused women. There simply aren’t enough beds for everyone.”
Former steelworker John, 38, has been homeless for a number of years and believes the council just want him out of the way because he doesn’t fit in with their grand vision for the new shopping center.
“I get my head down wherever I can – parks, car parks, bus shelters.They just want to get us out of the way; they’re building this new shopping centre and don’t want us to be seen. I’ll just keep moving around, staying out of the way of the feds.”
Rich, 34, sleeps under a bridge and has branded the ban “stupid.”
“It’s making life harder for us and making more work for the police. They have enough to do catching real criminals. It’s a waste of time. The council should do more to help us, not just try to get rid of us.”
Newport, of course, was the final destination of the famous Chartist march of the 19th century. It also has a square named after Chartist leader John Frost, who rallied thousands of men under the banner of Chartism to fight bravely for the rights of the impoverished working class.
Rosie Brighouse, a legal officer for Liberty, believes many Chartists would be turning in their grave if they could see what Newport City Council were currently planning.
“These proposals make a mockery of Newport’s Chartist legacy. For the sake of a new shopping centre, the council is pouring its energies into criminalising the most vulnerable in the city.
“This won’t house people, move them on, or help resolve their homelessness in any other way – it will simply fine them for their extreme poverty. We urge the council in the strongest terms to reconsider these utterly shameful plans.”
A spokesperson for the council has stressed the welfare of the homeless is their priority.
“It is important to note that only a relatively small number of people who are homeless do not have a safe place to sleep, and unfortunately, some choose to do this instead of sleeping in available accommodation or overnight shelter.
“Newport city council wants every person in the city to have a safe place to sleep, every single night. The council has clear strategies and support in place for those at risk of homelessness and those already homeless.”
Homeless charity The Wallich believes that criminalizing people for an activity over which they have no choice is totally unacceptable and demand that Newport City Council reconsider this measure.
To sign their petition, click here.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]