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Protest over Mayor's plans to criminalise sleeping rough

VOLUNTEERS who help people who are sleeping rough in Torbay say hundreds will turn out in force to protest at Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver’s plans to make it ‘illegal’.

Mayor Oliver claims that rough sleepers and beggars are ‘one of the biggest threats to future investment in Torbay’.

But a group of volunteers who help the homeless and rough sleepers say they need and deserve council help, not fines. They are planning to protest at the Mayor’s budget briefings at the Grand Hotel at 2pm and 7pm on Thursday.

Councillors have been told there are currently 20 rough sleepers in Torbay, as well as a number of professional beggars who are not rough sleepers.

There have been increasing complaints from the public and small businesses about the amount of rough sleeping and street-based anti-social behaviour, particularly at Torquay’s harbourside and seafront.

Mayor Oliver said byelaws or a Public Spaces Protection Order would be ‘a deterrent for those who do this [beg] for the purpose of raising money’.

He said told members : “Unless we can address this in a humane, sensible and sensitive manner we won’t have the kind of regeneration schemes we would like to see. Reputation is very important. We have to address this to make sure when people come to invest they’re confident we’re doing our part.”

But Ellie Waugh, from the voluntary group PATH, which offers clothes, showers and food and support and help at The Haven in Paignton town centre, said: “We have sent some 1,400 emails to the Mayor and we are hoping to have hundreds at the meeting.

“It isn’t all people with drug and alcohol addictions.Three of the gentleman we help served in Afghanistan and one saw service in the Falklands. People are going through divorce or have health problems. We can be helping 50 to 100 people at a time. It’s a really needed facility. I had one gentleman from Torbay who had been sleeping rough for six weeks. He has Aspergers and had been beaten up.

“And the Mayor wants to spend money on cr*p airshows and palm trees.

“I am not a middle class do-gooder or a bored housewife, I feel so strongly we cannot criminalise sleeping rough.”

PATH have organised a carols by candlelight concert in Paignton town centre with Ben Cummins, head chorister at Exeter Cathedral and member of the National Youth Choir, pupils from Trinity School, Stover School, Exeter School, and members of Paignton Cricket Club to sing in Victoria Square with a party afterwards. It starts at 4pm on Wednesday December 14.

They are appealing for further volunteers to help open the centre in the afternoon.

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