Council accused of ‘dehumanising’ rough sleeper with sign and plastic screens

By Chris Breese and Frankie Townsend

Community Protection Officers from Nottingham City Council have been accused of ‘dehumanising’ a rough sleeper after they screened him off with a plastic barrier and stuck up a handwritten sign next to him claiming he had refused accommodation.

The yellow barrier was placed around an empty shop doorway being used by the man for shelter on Lower Parliament Street on Wednesday morning.

Community Protection Officers (CPOs) were also seen sticking the sign to a piece of boarding next to the man, reading: “This man has refused to take a [sic] offer from Framework of 3 nights in a hotel.”

It attracted the attention of dozens of passersby, some of whom stopped to peer over the barrier at the sleeping man.

The man involved later said he had felt ‘wound up’ by the incident. One city homeless support charity said the episode was ‘dehumanising’ and inappropriate.

The council says the sign was an error of judgement by CPOs frustrated at the man after “dealing with him for three days”.

But it added the barriers are an official new tactic used to protect rough sleepers and provide privacy. The sign was later removed by council staff, but the barrier left in place.

A spokesman for Framework, the homeless support charity, said the sign and fence were “absolutely nothing to do” with the organisation.

The handwritten sign was stuck next to the sleeping man by CPOs, but later taken down.

The man told Notts TV he had been offered accommodation – but it was in Derby, where ‘problems’ for him there meant he could not stay there. The 27-year-old did not want to give his name.

“It just makes me feel wound up because they put this sign up and they said I was begging and all that, but I wasn’t begging,” he said.

“People said I could sleep in this doorway because it’s a closed down shop.

“I’ve got reasons why I’ve turned down a hotel because there’s problems [for me] in Derby.”

Video: The man, who did not want to be identified, said he ‘had reasons’ for sleeping rough

Denis Tully, Chief Executive at Emmanuel House, the city charity supporting homeless people, said: “To put up a sign is a very dehumanising thing to do and it’s not where we would want to go.

“In terms of the barrier, again I think it’s a question of whether it actually contributes to someone’s human dignity. If the council is attempting to provide greater protection for people who are homeless it’s a good thing – but I’d be interested to know what they [rough sleepers] say about a barrier being put around them.

“It’s got a warning symbol on it – what is the warning symbol warning people against? It’s not something we would want to be associated with.”

The council says while the sign was a ‘mistake’ the barrier was a new tool being used for the first time to protect rough sleepers.

Councillor Toby Neal, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community, told Notts TV: “I think the sign was a mistake, and if I’m honest I think it was probably a bit of frustration from somebody who’s been dealing with somebody for three days.

“But they understand it was a mistake – it’s not what our policy is about. It’s about making sure vulnerable people are protected and preferably off the streets if we can get them off the streets, and if we can’t we provide them with support on the street itself.”

He added it was the first time the council had used one of the barriers, which it had had for a few weeks.

Video: Cllr Toby Neal said the sign was a mistake, but the screens a new tactic.

He said: “The privacy barriers are an attempt to try and at least not make them have people gawking at them or have people talking to them and to try to work through the issues with them – that’s the main thrust of them.”