Edinburgh Council officers banned from asking police to evict rough sleepers

COUNCIL parks officials are no longer allowed to ask police to evict rough sleepers from the Capital's green spaces - with the action now only to be used "as a last resort in exceptional circumstances".

Monday, 2nd September 2019, 4:57 pm
Rough sleepers were evicted from green spaces and cemeteries in Edinburgh

A full investigation is underway after council officers came under fire for asking Police Scotland to issue eviction notices to 23 rough sleepers who were staying at St Cuthbert’s Church yard and Greyfriars Kirkyard earlier this year. The eviction notices pointed rough sleepers to available support.

The council's housing, homelessness and fair work convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, said she was "utterly appalled" by the eviction letters but police said there had been "a threat to public safety with human excrement and drugs paraphernalia putting members of the public at risk”.

But a leaked memo circulated to councillors has revealed that officials will no longer be allowed to ask police for letters to quit to be issued. Instead, the council's director of place, Paul Lawrence, has "made it clear that future decisions on enforcement action in parks and cemeteries should only be made by the head of place management or the executive director, and only be as a last resort in exceptional circumstances." The council also considered "closing park and cemetery gates" to tackle the issue.

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Rough sleepers were evicted from Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Picture: Jon Savage

Rules for parks and cemeteries were drawn up by council officials in 2013. But since then, "the problems of rough sleeping and homelessness have become more significant". Officials admit that "there is clearly a need to review the park rules".

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"This is wrong and shows we are not getting value for money.”

Conservative housing spokesperson, Cllr Jim Campbell, said the issue was "embarrassing" for the council's SNP-Labour administration.

He added: "The causes of rough sleeping are hugely complex, as we all know. The big issue is poor supply of housing of all types. We think a mobilisation of all resources is needed to address this in Edinburgh."

Green city centre Cllr Claire Miller added: "The previous approach of handing out barely understandable letters, coupled with heavy-handed enforcement, would only result in one thing. It would simply shift people from sleeping rough in one park or cemetery to another one.

"The only answer is to work with people to understand what kind of help they need, to get out of tents and sleeping rough and into accommodation. I don’t underestimate how hard that is, sometimes dealing with complex and damaging experiences, built up over decades. But it’s the only way which will actually sort the problem rather than just moving it around.”

The council has reconvened its homelessness taskforce - which will prioritise improving support for rough sleepers with complex needs including mental health issues and substance addition.

"We now have robust procedures in place so that decision making includes input from the homelessness service, senior officers and a case conference to put forward planned support for individuals. Our approach has to centre around wellbeing and safety of the people involved and we now have processes in place to make sure that happens."