Homeless help signs in Gloucester scrapped amid fears city will become 'magnet for rough sleepers'

PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 16, 2020. Photo credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

Signs that direct homeless people in Gloucester to where they can get help are not being put up because it would make the city a "magnet for rough sleepers", civic chiefs have been told.

But councillors have raised concerns about the issue of homelessness and how it is a matter which gets “glossed over” in the city.

Conservative councillor Brendon O’Donnell and Labour councillor Tree Chambers-Dubus say they are working to find solutions to help some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

But Cllr O’Donnell claims he was recently told that signs that direct people to shelters are not being put up out of fear it will make Gloucester an 'attractive destination' for rough sleepers from other areas.

The homeless issue gets "glossed over" in Gloucester, when in fact it is a "major issue", he said, in a written question to Gloucester City Council chiefs last week.

“I have already been told we won’t put up any signage to show where the shelters are for those who don’t know, and the reason was we don’t want to make Gloucester too attractive for homeless people not from Gloucester.”

He asked council leaders if they would consider supporting BillyChip, a charity that works with shops and cafes to help the homeless.

Businesses can sell blue chips to the public and instead of giving rough sleepers money, they give them the BillyChip and they can trade it in for a hot meal and drink.

Cllr O’Donnell told councillors at the council meeting on 26 January that there needs to be a review over the way homelessness is viewed in the city.

“I understand the council is under the illusion that if they did certain things it would make Gloucester a magnet for other homeless people", he said.

“But true homeless people and rough sleepers who are on our streets would not always agree", he added.

Planning and housing strategy cabinet member Stephanie Chambers said the council works with many partners in helping vulnerable and homeless people in Gloucester.

She commended the councillors’ efforts in encouraging people to take up the Billy Chip scheme.

In her written response to Cllr O’Donnell, she said that reducing homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for the council.

She said council officers will continue to work to determine the most appropriate way to support households at risk of becoming homeless.

“Referrals to relevant support services will be completed where appropriate by council officers and partners, and it is not therefore appropriate to publicise individual support services", she added.