After I was elected last May, I felt it was really important to get to know and understand every road, street and concern in the centre of Weston. Very soon it was clear, like many other town centres in the country, that there was a number of people who slept at night in doorways in the High Street. Fearing that a vulnerable element of society needed help, I made it my business to understand the issue and offer support. Over days of early and late hour walks in the centre, I got to know some of the people involved and started to understand this was not so straight forward.
I firmly believe we have a duty as individuals and a Council to offer help to all those who need it in society. I was very keen to make sure the Council honours all its commitments and began a campaign to offer assistance. As my knowledge and connections grew, I began to realise of all the people sleeping in the centre I had met, on one Saturday evening I actually counted 21, only 15% of these were actually in need of permanent accommodation. In these cases I was pleased to learn most had been offered assistance directly by North Somerset Council or by several of the charitable organisations they fund, such as the excellent YMCA run out-reach programme, whose dedicated helpers worked day and night to offer help and support along with Council employees.
Unfortunately though I found an element of the people I met did actually have accommodation and benefits. They preferred sleeping in doorways as it offered an opportunity to ask passers-by for money, sometimes aggressively. I was told this significantly helped the income they received, over a £100 a day on occasion, and was often accompanied by other instances of anti-social behaviour. Though I am very sympathetic to those who need help, clearly this was a multi layered issue and would need a large coordinated agency effort to address, not just the Council. So I started a campaign for help and support where it is needed and enforcement where necessary. Effectively a Support and Enforcement Zone in our town centre. As a member of the Council Corporate and Community Organisation Panel, I asked that a working group made up of all the key organisations including the Police be mobilised to take this forward. I have been told time and time again that this is a difficult issue, which has been the same for many years, but I am determined that it is time to take a different and effective approach.