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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Operation Poncho II - the sequel

September 26 2009
‚Äö?Ñ??In my opinion, this was a deliberate act of provocation and harassment‚Äö?Ñ?? ‚Äö?Ñ??In my opinion, this was a deliberate act of provocation and harassment‚Äö?Ñ??
Readers say the operation‘s purpose is to move people on and query pre-dawn ‘welfare checks‘ Operation Poncho II is in full swing in the City of London (see The Pavement 24, p10), but readers have contacted The Pavement to cast doubt on the 'official' reason for the operation: welfare checks. Readers affected by the operation say its only purpose appears to be harassment, and believe it is done only to move them on. One City rough sleeper wrote in immediately, to say that the article 'The City feels Operation Poncho' gave a false impression. "Like many other street sleepers, I, too, was woken in the early hours of the morning of the 6th August at approximately 4am. In my case, I was woken by a three-inch diameter torch being shone directly into my face from a distance of about three feet, a very provocative way to wake someone from a deep sleep. "In my opinion, this was a deliberate act of provocation and harassment from the police, as the place where I sleep is well lit. The use of the torch was unwarranted." He pointedly asked why "welfare checks" needed to be done at this time, and what help - should he want it - was available at that time of night? Luton Sinfield, community services manager for St Mungo's, had told The Pavement that "we welcome any initiative that will help homeless men and women off the street and into appropriate accommodation and support." However, given the 4am wake-up call, the orders to move on, and no offer of accommodation, this rough sleeper now believes "the entire operation is a political and not a welfare exercise." He said, "Operation Poncho II is just the latest attempt to intimidate and harass." And he's not alone. Another reader, Alf Welton, poured scorn on the suggestion that the operation was done for welfare reasons: "It's a pretext," he said, and showed pink Stop and Search forms (Met form 386) as evidence. One form that Mr Welton showed The Pavement gave the reason for the stop as "welfare check," but also, incongruously, gave the time of the action at 4.02am. The recorded result of the stop and search was given as "move on." When he asked the police why they were conducting the operation, the police told him that "there's too many people in the area [City]" and that they "need to get the numbers down". Mr Welton added that when he asked where he should go at that time of the morning, he was told that he had "to get out of the City, but don't go too far down the Strand", a warning that he'll be moved on from that end if he does. However, he bears no animosity towards the police, some of whom had expressed a reluctance to do these checks, and told him that they had "other things we'd rather be doing, but we've been tasked." Another victim of this operation echoed the experiences of these two, but went further when he argued about the damage they do to those who might be open to the right support. Peter Pickle had been moved on in Operation Poncho II. As a result, he says, is he has lost touch with the St Mungo's team he was in contact with. "They achieve nothing," he said, "but harassing the homeless." Explaining that "if they move us on, they break our link with St Mungo's." At the time of meeting, he said they had lost him - "they don't know where I'm skippering." Unfortunately, it now appears that "welfare checks" may join street counts as shameful actions disguised as care, and are, at best, another unconstructive way to 'support' those on the street. We did not receive comment from St Mungo's or the police at time of going to press.
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