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Reading Council picks on homeless

May 18 2009
Street cleaning teams are binning rough sleepers‘ sleeping bags and blankets, according to local charity workers Reading Council street cleaning teams are binning sleeping bags and blankets owned by rough sleepers, according to workers from a local organisation. Christian charity Faith, which runs soup kitchens four nights a week and provides bedding donated by benefactors, said it was wrong that the clean-up teams should be confiscating them. Malc Peirce, the charity's executive director, said: "We are getting quite a lot of demand for sleeping bags and blankets as the temperatures drop. But our users are telling us that if the Council comes across them, they have to throw them away. "It is appalling and disheartening to think that we are handing out sleeping bags to those who really need them, and the next day they are ending up in skips. "It speaks of a rather heartless society," Mr Peirce said. "We have been told that clean-up teams focus on 'rough sleeper hotspots' - under the Civic Centre, in car parks and at the railway station - but we feel in itself that is a hugely insensitive and emotive term." Reading Council claims there is an average of eight rough sleepers in the town at any time, but campaigners say that does not count people on streets outside an area bounded by the Reading ring road (the IDR). The Council works with the Department of Communities and Local Government to minimise the number of rough sleepers, and its specialist Street Services Team helps them find accommodation, treatment and support. Council spokeswoman Sarah Bishton said: "Rough sleepers are not always willing to engage with the services provided and will continue to sleep rough regardless of the assistance offered to them. There are occasions where these individuals congregate in public area, cause anti-social behaviour and intimidate the public. This is not acceptable, and the council wishes to give a clear message that this will not be tolerated. "There have been instances where soiled cardboard, blankets and drug paraphernalia have been found in these public areas, and the Council has a responsibility to clear them away as they cause a public hazard." She added that when evidence was found to suggest someone had been sleeping rough, street services staff always try to track them down. Mr Peirce said Basingstoke, Swindon and Oxford had night shelters and he believed Reading also needed one: "The scale of the homelessness problem in Reading is largely unseen. "There are people who find themselves genuinely homeless through no fault of their own or through a minor misjudgment, but there is nowhere for them to go as all the beds are permanently full. "A few weeks ago, I was approached by a father who had just been made homeless. There was nothing I could do to help, and he and his 13-year-old daughter ended up sleeping in the station car park." Miss Bishton added: "We have not advocated a night shelter, as this can often lead to entrenched rough sleeping and does not encourage people to move off the streets and lead independent lives." Instead of a night shelter, she said, the Council has opened a supported house to help rough sleepers get off the streets.
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