Every evening on my way home from work, I walk along the Strand, past the homeless men and women who sleep on the streets just outside the Strand's finest, most expensive hotels. For me, this sight has come to symbolise the two sides of London's current housing situation - as property prices have boomed and rents have risen starkly, homelessness has also soared.
So I was really concerned to find out that Hackney Council, has included rough sleepers in its new Public Protection Space Orders (PSPOs). These orders give councils and officers the power to ban rough sleeping and begging and to impose fines of up to £1,000 for breaches.
In a city where millions are reported to be only one payday away from losing their homes, I don't believe criminalising homelessness is right. We need to convince Hackney Council to reconsider the terms of its PSPO and remove the references to rough sleeping from it.
Londoners have already stood up to defend the rights of homeless people. In 2011, Westminster City Council attempted to outlaw sleeping rough and soup kitchens near Westminster Cathedral but dropped the proposals after public outrage. And last year when 'anti-homeless spikes' were spotted outside apartments and supermarkets, over 130,000 came together to get them removed.
That's why I've started a petition on change.org to stop Hackney Council criminalising rough sleepers. A similar petition by On Your Doorstep has already succeeded in convincing Oxford City Council to drop proposals to introduce similar measures. Already 66,000 people have signed.
The Council say that the purpose of these PSPOs is not to criminalise the homeless, but tackle anti-social behaviour. Homelessness is not synonymous with anti social behaviour and whilst I do not doubt Hackney Council's sincerity, the effect of the PSPO will be to criminalise rough sleepers even if this was not its intention. I welcome Hackney Council's assurance that they do not want to criminalise rough sleepers. Its desire to deal with the type of anti-social behaviour which it describes is understandable. But a ban on rough sleeping goes further than this and I hope that the public support this petition has gained will persuade the Council to reconsider the terms of the PSPO and remove references to rough sleeping from it. My greatest hope, however, is that we can all come together and stop all hostile measures aimed at rough sleepers wherever we may find them and that we can persuade our elected representatives to tackle the root causes of homelessness.
Homelessness charities like Crisis say banning rough sleeping "risks driving the most vulnerable people further away from vital support services."
Instead of criminalising homelessness our elected representatives should be working with organisations to tackle the root causes. Londoners have stood up for homeless people before - I hope they will join me in doing it again.