The issues regarding rough sleepers and street drinkers in the New Beetwell Street Bus Station and town centre remain one of the biggest concerns facing Chesterfield. We are seeing rough sleeping levels in Chesterfield that we would previously only have seen in a city centre location, and also experiencing increased street drinking and substance misuse that has created antisocial behaviour.
I recently attended the second in a series of summit meetings arranged by Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh. The meeting brought together representatives from Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Constabulary, local businesses, homelessness support charities, health & treatment services and other agencies, to create a proactive approach to tackling rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, street drinking and drug abuse. And these summits are proving to be far more than just a talking shop, real action is already being taken, new initiatives created and a coordinated multi-agency approach to tackling these problems.
The council’s new Public Space Protection Orders will hopefully stop the behaviours we have seen in the town that are causing disruption and concern. The proposed new powers will allow police to confiscate alcohol and ban behaviours that cause nuisance, alarm or distress, stop people loitering near cash machines and shop doorways for begging, issuing fixed penalty notices for urinating or defecating in public and stop people setting up tents. The new strategy will ensure that everything is done to try and get people to engage with support and advice, to help them address their issues. However, if they refuse to engage with support and continue to cause problems then the police and council officers will have powers to issue fines which could potentially lead to prosecutions.
The voluntary sector are also playing a massive role in trying to address homelessness in Chesterfield. One great example is St Thomas’ Church, which has bought the former Ponderosa guest house on Derby Road and have created a new accommodation service called ‘Hope House’ that will provide a vital bridging step to help people address some of their issues, such as substance misuse or debt, whilst providing a stable and safe place to live. The multi-agency approach will help charities, treatment services and housing providers work together to provide holistic support that will hopefully lead to long-term housing stability and the end of ASB issues.
I also joined with Framework Housing Association and Pathways with their sofa push event in Queen’s Park, which has helped raise awareness of the ‘sofa-surfing’ problem in Chesterfield, as well as raising funds for the vital work done by both charities.
There are dozens of other charities, church groups and voluntary organisations working with the council and police to help homeless people engage with support and move towards permanent housing and stable lives. There are more challenges to come with the roll-out of Universal Credit, but I feel optimistic that in Chesterfield we are doing all we can to weather the storm.
Our town centre is still punching well above its weight in comparison to other East Midlands towns, we have fewer empty shops and are continuing to attract investment and new businesses. If we can address the homelessness and ASB problems, there is no limit to our town’s potential.