The Chichester community can ‘no longer bury its head in the sand’ about its ‘growing’ homeless problem.
That is according to city councillor and Stonepillow trustee Clare Apel, who said every single one of the homeless charity’s beds in Chichester, Bognor and Littlehampton are currently full.
“Rough sleepers are ten times more likely to be attacked and mistreated than the average member of the public,” cllr Apel told last night’s Chichester City Council meeting.
“For that reason they prefer sleeping in the city because it is safer.
“One of our clients is at the moment in hospital with concussion having been attacked at the weekend.
“The problem is becoming worse and worse and there’s a 30 per cent increase from last year.
“I really do feel that Stonepillow, the city, Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council and the churches should get together to come up with some positive situation for how this can be helped.
“It’s not going to go away, it’s going to get worse and worse and as a whole population we cannot bury our heads in the sand.”
Cllr Apel added: “Stonepillow has 86 beds and every single one is full.”
City councillors expressed their sadness at the huge, negative reaction on Facebook this week to signs outside their Council House in North Street which say ‘no rough sleeping’ under the portico.
Town clerk Rodney Duggua said after many years of council staff allowing homeless people to sleep there at night, giving out hot drinks and letting groups charge their mobile phones, the decision to put the signs up in November came after a new group became abusive.
Mr Duggua said: “A group came over from Portsmouth and the reason they came to Chichester was because they had heard there was better treatment for homeless people than other areas.
“The people who came had a very different attitude than our normal clients, there was quite a bit of drinking and they became abusive towards our staff.”
He called the behaviour ‘totally unacceptable’ and said after consulting with Chichester District Council, the housing authority, and West Sussex County Council, the signs were put up to protect the council staff.
“After adopting a live and let live attitude I was extremely saddened by the negative reaction on social media from people who took no interest in what we had been doing before to support the homeless,” he added.
Cllr Sarah Sharp said: “People have told me they felt ashamed of the city council for the notices and that shops allowing homeless people to sleep in their doorways outside of opening hours was more caring than ourselves.
“I do know that for many years you have looked after and tolerated these people before some became abusive.”
However cllr Martyn Bell, also a Stonepillow trustee, angrily defended the city council’s work with homeless people, saying the notices were ‘in no way cruel’.
He said the city council and Stonepillow’s former project called ‘no second night out’ had been highly successful in ensuring no one was ever on the streets for a second night, before the contract went to St Mungo’s, who he said were now ‘under resourced’.
Cllr Tony Dignum said plans to enclose the portico had been approved ‘not to keep people out but so we can make better use of our space’.
Chichester Mayor Peter Budge said: “It appears that help is needed for the rough sleepers, there are organisations that can help but they seem to be swamped at the moment.”
Councillors agreed to arrange a meeting with Stonepillow’s new CEO, Geoffrey Willis, who cllr Apel said was happy to meet with members to discuss the homeless situation and what can be done to help.
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