UK
04/06/2015 12:12 BST | Updated 04/06/2015 16:59 BST

Fines For Homeless People From Hackney Council Petitioned By Thousands

An online petition targeting Hackney Council's new plans to fine rough sleepers has picked up more than 65,000 signatures.

A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) has been put in place to tackle "the anti-social behaviour linked to street drinking, persistent rough sleeping and begging in 'hot spots'".

Under the new rules, police and council officers can hand out £100 fixed penalties to 'offenders', which could then rise to £1000 if the case is taken to court.

Zahira Patel, who started the Change.org petition wrote: "It is absurd to impose a fine of £1,000 on somebody who is already homeless and struggling. People should not be punished for the "crime" of not having a roof over their head - there is nothing inherently "anti social" or criminal about rough sleeping."

Homelessness charities have been active in speaking out against the regulations. Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis said: “Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable in society and branding them anti-social is just plain wrong. Any moves to ban and criminalise rough sleeping will be counter-productive and will only make it harder for people to access the dedicated support they need to move away from the streets for good."

Digs, a campaign group for private renters against London's housing crisis, have reached out on Twitter to encourage people to email Hackney Council and join in with the hashtag #NotFineWithUs.

Spokesperson for Digs, Heather Kennedy said: "The Deputy Mayor claims the PSPO isn’t about homelessness. Take out specific reference to rough sleeping then. Rough sleepers are incredibly vulnerable to all kinds of abuse and health risks. This treatment from Hackney Council is unfair."

"The order is particularly callous because in the middle of a housing crisis we know the council are failing the homeless people they have a responsibility to protect. Rough sleepers are turned away from the council without any meaningful offer of support or housing."

However, Hackney Council's deputy leader Sophie Linden wrote in a statement: "The PSPO is not about 'criminalising the homeless'. Anyone sleeping rough in Hackney is always offered the support and help they need."

"The rough sleeping provision in the PSPO is designed to tackle a handful of entrenched rough sleepers who have repeatedly and over a long period resisted all attempts to house them and help them, and who are causing serious problems for other residents with anti-social behaviour."

"These are people who often have serious addiction and mental health problems but have repeatedly failed to engage with the services which could help them. In some of these very difficult cases, the threat of legal action has been the push that has persuaded them to seek the help that they so desperately need. That’s why what we are doing is being supported by Thames Reach, the homelessness charity that works with us to provide a specialist outreach service."

Those angered by the PSPO have taken to Twitter to speak out against the regulations.