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Planned specialist team will help homeless people sleeping in Stratford Centre

PUBLISHED: 14:00 04 July 2019

A rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre on October 17. Picture: Archant

A rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre on October 17. Picture: Archant

Archant

Plans to set up a 'homelessness taskforce' to help the dozens of rough sleepers bedding down in a shopping centre near the Olympic Park will be put in place at a special cabinet meeting next week.

A rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre on October 17. Picture: ArchantA rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre on October 17. Picture: Archant

Councillors will meet on Tuesday to discuss the team who will tackle the situation in Newham's Stratford Centre, where an estimated 50 people are living every night.

The taskforce will "develop a strategy for Stratford, that will also feed into a wider homelessness strategy", according to the town hall.

The council said: "The current situation with rough sleeping and in particular around Stratford and the Mall is unique in terms of its population, the risk that it presents to vulnerable people in the centre and the concerns expressed by residents and businesses in the area.

"It is recognised that this situation will not improve unless there is a more longer term strategy that addresses those risks and delivers practical outcomes. The Mayor [Rokhsana Fiaz] has placed reducing homelessness 'with compassion' amongst her top priorities for Newham during her term."

Stratford Centre is currently open through the night. Picture: Ken MerasStratford Centre is currently open through the night. Picture: Ken Meras

Last month proposals to lock rough sleepers out the centre, amid claims the situation has become a "public health emergency", were put on hold.

The council had suggested implementing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in the mall.

It is currently a public right of way as well as popular route to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and cannot be locked.

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A PSPO would have overruled this and seen it closed between midnight and 5am for the first time since it first opened in 1974.

However, critics said the idea would "criminalise the poor".

Stratford councillor Nareser Osei said: "The crisis at the Stratford Centre is a public health emergency. Newham Council has to treat it as such. PSPOs criminalise the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Closing Stratford Shopping Centre does not deal with the failure in the current homelessness strategy. We should provide solutions not penalties for the poor."

The council admitted that the area has become a magnet for crime, with high levels of "antisocial behaviour, with incidents of serious violence, sexual offences, intimidation, open drug use, street drinking and aggressive begging".

But Ms Fiaz said a PSPO "does not at all reflect the compassion and care approach that my administration is committed to when dealing with our most vulnerable."

PSPOs are most commonly used to control dogs in public spaces. However, they have also recently been used by Ealing council to stop protesters gathering around an abortion clinic and by Kensington and Chelsea to crackdown on supercar drivers revving their engines late at night.

Once an area is put under a PSPO anyone breaking its rules can face prosecution or a fine.

Shelter says one in 25 people in Newham are homeless, one of the highest numbers in Britain.

"Homelessness" includes rough sleeping and living in a squat or staying with friends temporarily.

The new taskforce is expected to meet for the first time next month and report back their findings an proposed strategy in October.

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