Vagrancy Act: Sheffield firms consulted on plans to scrap ban on begging and rough sleeping

Sheffield businesses are being consulted on plans to scrap the law which makes begging and rough sleeping an offence.

Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 3:39 pm

The government is repealing the ‘outdated’ Vagrancy Act - in place since 1824 - aiming to bring in legislation which puts rehabilitation and support ‘at the heart of our approach’.

The government says it has driven a 43 per cent drop in rough sleeping since 2019, and it is currently at an eight-year low.

Sheffield city centre saw a spike in begging and rough sleeping during the pandemic.

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Beggar on High St in Sheffield city centre. Picture Scott Merrylees

WHAT IS SHEFFIELD BID SAYING?

The Vagrancy Act consultation is being circulated by Sheffield BID which represents city centre businesses.

Diane Jarvis, head of business operations, said businesses were affected by rough sleeping and begging, especially aggressive begging, and it could cause distress for staff and customers.

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But many also felt the idea an individual could be criminalised for having nowhere to live is ‘very much an outdated in 2022’.

And any new law must balance supporting vulnerable people with ensuring the ability of police to protect the city centre community ‘is not unduly weakened’.

She added: “Addressing the issue of antisocial behaviour is essential not only for the safety of businesses and residents but also for the health of our city centre.

“Many city centre businesses have initiatives in place to support those begging on the street, so we know they will want to get their voices heard.”

A man lies slumped in the doorway of Pret A Manger on Fargate after it shut down. Picture: Chris Etchells

She added: “We need clear boundaries for what is and isn’t acceptable in a public space. We need provision to target persistent and aggressive begging and other public order offences.”

The BID is a key partner work that includes the ‘Help Us Help’ campaign, the council’s outreach teams, city centre enforcement teams and the police, she added.

HOW ARE THE POLICE TACKLING IT?

Last week, Sheffield District Commander, Chf Supt Shelley Hemsley, said their response to anti-social behaviour in the city centre was to use tactics including Operation Sidewinder, through which officers aim to create ‘a hostile environment for criminals’ while providing reassurance to the public. It combines CCTV, a sniffer dog, undercover officers and police intelligence.

The force also has a Police Community Support Officer who patrols every morning to work with homeless people on the streets and offer ‘support and pathways’ for them.

She told The Star: “One of the things that we know the public say that they’re concerned about is homeless people, it is about seeing people begging, and some of those people aggressively begging in the city centre that potentially makes them feel intimidated.

“Certainly, the work that the PCSO does and the multi-agency work we’ve got around pathways out of homelessness help us to get a point where we might be able to get a criminal justice outcome when other routes to support that person have been exhausted.”

WHAT HAPPENED AT BOOTS ON FARGATE?

Last month, terrified staff at Boots on Fargate told The Star they feared someone was going to get stabbed amid a rise in threats, spitting, aggression, discrimination, false accusations of assault and ‘brazen’ shoplifting.

The consultation is open until 11:45pm on Thursday 5 May 2022.

You can respond to the consultation either online or by email at: [email protected]

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