HOMELESS people will not be fined for begging in Oxford this summer, but the hugely unpopular ban may be brought back again in the winter.

Oxford City Council has said it will not decide until the autumn whether to reinstate the contentious powers which opponents have said could ‘criminalise’ rough sleepers.

The authority has said it will first ask residents whether they think a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) – which also bans 'peddling goods' is required in the city centre.

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The previous PSPO, which outlawed eight activities including 'aggressive begging', using public toilets ‘inappropriately’ and drinking alcohol, was launched in February 2016 and expired at the end of January.

The Oxford Times:

A Labour city councillor said she was worried some of Oxford’s 100 rough sleepers could be ‘demonised’ as a result of a new PSPO – but the council insisted that was not the intention.

Shaista Aziz, who represents Rose Hill and Iffley, said: “While it’s been stated very clearly that this would not impact on rough sleepers, it is a fact that across the country when these orders have been put in place, rough sleepers have been impacted severely.”

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Ms Aziz warned that the homeless in Oxford were already demonised, with one woman who has been rough sleeping in Oxford for 30 years saying she has been urinated on ‘more than once’ and had been spat on.

She said: “Last year I spoke to [homeless] people who had been handed food, which they took because they were hungry, and later they found the food had been contaminated with laxatives and so they became very, very sick. Being on the street and having that done to you is a disgrace.”

The Oxford Times:

City councillor Shaista Aziz (right) with homelessness campaigner Monica Gregory

She added: “I heard people say they’ve been evicted from cemeteries. These are people who have nowhere to go, yet this is what is happening.”

Just one man was prosecuted as a result of the PSPO after being found injecting drugs in Gloucester Green toilets. Another five fines were handed out, four of them to people peddling goods.

Meanwhile, at least five rough sleepers have died in the city since the start of December.

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Richard Adams, the council’s community safety service manager, said: “This is not about looking for enforcement opportunities for people. It’s about trying to improve people’s life chances by getting them off the streets and into services.

“We know from working with a wide range of people that there are the exploited and the exploiters.”

Mr Adams told the council’s scrutiny committee that an external company will be employed to carry out a consultation. That is expected to be completed by September at the earliest.

The Oxford Times:

The area of the former PSPO extended as far north as Banbury and Woodstock Roads and as far south as the junction of St Aldates and Thames Street.

Some councillors said they were unsure why any new PSPO would be needed if the council could do without one for months from the end of January until at least the last few months of 2019.

Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, who represents Northfield Brook for Labour, wondered why the council ‘can’t just do without it’ and allow the police to use their powers.

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She added there appeared to be a ‘conflict’ of the council being an agency helping homeless people and also being able to hand out fixed penalty notices to them.

While Craig Simmons, the leader of the council’s Green Party group, said there would be ‘unintentional consequences’ for rough sleepers in introducing a PSPO because of its ‘inbuilt bias’.

The Oxford Times:

Mr Simmons, above, a councillor in St Mary’s ward, added: “To prove my point, if you go into the city centre in the evening, what do you feel threatened by? I don’t say: ‘I’m not going to the city centre because I’m going to be aggressively begged at’. You say: ‘I’m not going to go to the city centre because it’s rowdy tonight and there are lots of drunk people out on the streets'.”

Civil rights group Liberty told the council in 2015 introducing a PSPO would ‘criminalise homeless people and rough sleepers’.