Mayor Sir Robin Wales tackles the problems of rough sleeping and street drinking on our streets

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham - Credit: Archant

Newham Council, along with partners, has begun a crackdown on the growing and linked problems of rough sleeping and street drinking on our streets. The Council, Police, homelessness charities and the UK Border Agency are approaching the issue in Stratford, Forest Gate and West Ham by offering support to those who will accept it and enforcing the law where necessary.

I realise that this is a tough message, and that some people will be instinctively unhappy with it. I will not ignore the issue, nor am I prepared to have people living on our streets – some have chronic health conditions or are obviously vulnerable, others are unaware they are entitled to access housing or other financial support. Equally, I am not prepared to tolerate some of the behaviours and problems that this growing issue causes for our wider community.

The complaints we have had, from local residents and businesses, of crime and anti-social behaviour, cannot, and will not, be ignored. Our joint operation has found that a significant proportion of those we have spoken to so far have increasingly chronic substance dependencies, such as alcohol and drugs. In turn, this has resulted in growing problems of drug taking and dealing, shoplifting, public urination and other anti-social behaviour.

The issue is particularly prevalent in and around the Stratford Centre, with its large sheltered areas and easy access to waste food and cardboard. Local councillors and I have looked at closing Stratford Centre overnight but agreed it must remain open as a vital public walkway for residents. Those who use it and the surrounding areas for work, commuting or leisure, deserve to feel safe as they do so.

If people sleeping rough want assistance then we will work with them to find the right agencies, including access to healthcare, housing and other specialist support. However, if they refuse the offers of assistance, from us or our partners, they cannot expect to continue to sleep on our streets.

It is simply not acceptable, either for the people who find themselves in this situation or for our wider community, to have people living on the streets of Newham, in our doorways or in unsafe, disused buildings. We will continue to balance our approach - support and law enforcement - and proactively address this issue in an appropriate, humane and fair way.