Rough sleeping and begging in Croydon are being targeted in a new initiative by the Metropolitan Police.
Operation Encompass will see the police working with the local authority, UK Border Force and other agencies to target “those who commit such behaviour”.
The Met Police said the operation will have officers patrolling “hot spot areas to speak with those who sleep rough and beg from members of the public”.
Arrests will also be made where offences are identified.
However, some advocates for the homeless deem the move heavy-handed, cautioning the Met are making a direct association between homelessness, crime and other anti-social behaviour.
They believe a more socially accommodating approach will be more effective.
Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, said: “We would be very concerned to see how aggressively targeting and potentially criminalising some of the most vulnerable people in society is going to help anyone. What homeless people really need is access to services and support to help them get off the streets and to rebuild their lives.”
According to Crisis, rough sleeping in London has risen by 62% over two years and that more than 6,400 people slept on the streets of the capital at some point last year.
It said the trend is due to the ongoing pressures resulting from the economic downturn and a chronic lack of affordable housing as well as cuts to housing benefits.
Jad Adam, Chair of the homeless charity – Night Watch said: “This is not a particularly well thought-out proposal as it conflates street homelessness with begging. If people are street homeless, that is a failing in society, not a manifestation of ‘anti-social behaviour’. Improved housing strategies will help them, not more police action.”
The Met Police however believe the initiative is robust and proportionate response that will help to make the streets of London safer.
Alison Newcomb, in charge of the operation, said: “We recognise that some of the people we engage with are vulnerable which is why we are encouraging them to access services to gain the support they need, while taking affirmative action against persistent offenders who break the law or cause intimidation to passing members of public”.
Operation Encompass will be in effect in Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster, alongside Croydon.