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Big crowd forces Warminster board to confront homeless issue

(January 05, 2018)

A PLACARD waving crowd of more than 100 people, unhappy about Wiltshire Council’s perceived attitude towards homeless people, forced Warminster Area Board’s meeting to confront the growing issue on Thursday (5) evening at the town’s Civic Centre.

Many protestors were angry that changes which replaced Designated Public Places Orders (DPPO) with Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) on 21 October last year (2017) widened the scope of the legislation giving greater powers to authorities to move homeless people on and will cause vulnerable homeless people additional hardship.

The large number of disgruntled people at the meeting, fronted by Labour activist Tony Free, were also anxious to highlight a general lack of support offered by Wiltshire Council towards the homeless locally – they first raised the topic at the previous board meeting.

Despite assurances from Wiltshire Council officers and a uniformed police inspector, matters became so heated that inspector Andy Fee had to intervene when one man accused another of assault over a dispute around the taking of a photograph.

Mr Free, said: “If you can have the item on the agenda it gives you the power to withdraw the order – that is what we are asking.”

But Wiltshire Council head of services Ceri Williams, said: “The PSPO is a continuation of what we have had since 2010.

“It is not going to be used to punish the homeless but will help Warminster police address anti-social behaviour.”

Pressed on the issue by board chairman cllr Andrew Davis, Mr Williams said the purpose of the order in Warminster is to ‘make sure public spaces are free of anti-social behaviour which is alcohol related.”

The officer’s view was not accepted by everybody and another labour activist Mike White asked how often the powers were used in the year before 2017 and is there really a need?

Mr Williams promised that a working group will look into this and other aspects and report back to the area board.

The board was also advised of the help being provided face to face on the street by outreach worker Sarah Johnson who, during the past 18 months, had helped those living on the street get a fair deal from banks, health services and the Department for Work and Pensions.

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