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The independent London newspaper

Street volunteers: ‘We’ll go to war for the homeless’

Threat forces Town Hall climbdown over legal action to clear rough sleepers in Finsbury Park after letters were placed on belongings

15 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch

A rough sleeper at the Stroud Green Road bridge 

THE Town Hall has U-turned on a policy to clear rough sleepers using court orders after street volunteers warned they would “go to war” to protect the homeless.

Letters from Islington Council were placed on the belongings of rough sleepers under the railway bridge in Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, this week warning them that they would be moved from the area through legal injunctions.

The messages advised the homeless men and women to “seek independent legal advice and attend the hearing” at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand today (Friday). They said the council had “lodged an application to prevent rough sleeping, begging or other anti-social behaviour under the railway bridge”.

One of the letters delivered to homeless people in Stroud Green Road 

But the move angered volunteer groups which work with homeless people, including Jon Glackin, of Streets Kitchen, who met Town Hall housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward on Wednesday morning.

“I told him this was unacceptable and we would be at war with them and get our own lawyers at the High Court,” he said.

“It’s wrong to criminalise homeless people. We cannot accept that. Homeless people cannot afford fines, because they are homeless and they are in a hole already. It will displace them and they will be scared to go to that area.”

Mr Glackin added: “Outreach teams won’t know where to go to find people if they’re moved. Where will it stop? Will there be other injunctions in different areas?

“The homeless people are being blamed for urinating in that area, but there are no public toilets. It’s dangerous to be homeless. It doesn’t matter where you are.”

He was speaking before the council changed the injunction wording to take out reference to “rough sleepers” following his calls.

The badly-burned belongings of homeless ‘Lewis’ in Stroud Green Road last November

Mr Glackin met Cllr Ward alongside the council legal team at the Town Hall to persuade them to alter the injunction.

Writing on social media website Twitter, Cllr Ward said after the meeting: “After further discussions with our partners we’ve made an important change. We’ve removed the words ‘rough sleeping’ from the injunction.

“This was always about keeping vulnerable people safe and helping everyone into a secure home.

“It’s clear the situation under the bridges is unsustainable. A person sleeping rough has been stabbed and criminal activity is taking place.

“We will always listen and work together with our partners. Our outreach services are on-hand to help people and will remain in place to do so.”

Speaking after the change, Mr Glackin said he was “no longer at war with Islington Council”.

The council still plans to lodge a place-based injunction covering begging and anti-social behaviour as well as an injunction against nine named individuals today (Friday).

The number of rough sleepers in Stroud Green Road has exploded in the past year. There were 11 beds or makeshift shelters under the bridge on Wednesday.

As previously reported in the Tribune, a man named locally as “Lewis” suffered burns to his hands from an upturned candle in his tent last November.

The council says in its letter to rough sleepers that the injunction was “in the interests of your welfare, to keep you safe from further threats as well as from cold weather”.

It added: “We also have an obligation to protect residents and businesses in the area from these risks too.”

The council argues that a lot of people under the bridge have accommodation, but are drawn to the space because of substance abuse issues and are being targeted by drug dealers.

It says it is most concerned about the dangers facing rough sleepers and not the rough sleeping itself. It has housed 34 people from the area over the past two years.

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