The aim of this study was to critically assess how people experiencing street homelessness are impacted by anti-social behaviour tools and powers within a Public Spaces Protection Order area.
The study utilised qualitative semi-structured interviews with 52 people experiencing street homelessness in ten case study areas in England and Wales. Areas selected had a PSPO with prohibitions related to street homelessness. A supplementary mixed methods inquiry into the perspectives of key informants was also undertaken. This was an exploratory sequential design beginning with 16 semi-structured interviews with key informants from frontline roles, including outreach workers, local council employees, and charity workers. This was followed by a quantitative online questionnaire of key informants to explore central themes generated by the interviews. In total, 108 valid responses were analysed. All fieldwork was conducted between March 2021 and May 2022.
- The case study areas reflected two distinctly different approaches to policing; punitive or performative. Punitive PSPOs had a proactive focus to seek out people experiencing street homelessness for enforcement, for example, issuing Section 35 ‘direction to leave’ notices. Performative PSPOs had a chiefly informal and reactive approach to managing the street homelessness landscape, ‘turning a blind eye’ unless it was causing a significant problem.
- Across the case study areas there was a shift in the threshold of what is defined as anti-social, with a wider range of behaviours subject to enforcement.
- People experiencing street homelessness said they felt constantly policed within a PSPO area, fuelled by the high volume of informal interactions with the policing bodies where they were repeatedly told to move on.
- Different formal powers were often layered within PSPO areas creating a volatile space for people experiencing street homelessness, where their behaviour could result in formal enforcement by any one of several different powers, each with a different sanction.
- Continual dispersal and displacement were central to the experience of being policed in a PSPO area. However, people ultimately returned to the PSPO area, producing a cycle of policing and dispersal/displacement which neither stopped nor deterred the behaviours of people experiencing street homelessness.
- In most instances our participants experiencing street homelessness said that they were not signposted to support through their interactions with the policing bodies, resulting in a missed opportunity for meaningful engagement.
- Key informant participants perceived the PSPO as a framework to engage and support people experiencing street homelessness, with enforcement as a last resort. However, there was consensus amongst our participants that the way the PSPO was policed did not solve the underlying ASB problems and drivers of street homelessness.
- People experiencing street homelessness reported varied policing interactions from supportive to verbal and physical abuse, emotionally impacting on the participants and resulting in antagonistic relationships and further ASB.
- Key informant participants highlighted pockets of good practice, but the quality of partnership working appeared patchy. Many also stated the need for better and more accessible support resources and greater tolerance for those who fail to engage.
We have created a guidance document for how the tools and powers from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) should be used with people experiencing street homelessness. We co-produced the guidance with Crisis, ASB Help and ASB consultant Janine Green.
The guidance covers three main recommendation areas:
1. Updating the Home Office statutory guidance for frontline practitioners
Recommendations specifically relate to PSPOs, Dispersal Orders, Community Protection Notices, and informal policing interactions.
2. Changing the mindset and narrative of the policing bodies and ASB sector
This is underpinned by the guiding principles of legal literacy (Braye and Preston-Shoot, 2016), which are:
- Doing things right and in the spirit of the law
- Doing the right things in terms of professional ethics
- Rights thinking, which respects human rights and social justice
3. Improving training for frontline officers
Specialist homelessness training for frontline officers should be provided, which reflects the local context. This training should be trauma informed.