EFFORTS are being made to find out why rough sleepers are setting up home in Swindon’s multi-storey car parks.
I don’t know about you, but I reckon it might be happening because there are more people in need of a bed for the night than there are beds available.
Although I’m no expert on these matters, it’s a fair bet that folk aren’t sleeping in car parks because car parks are attractive places in which to sleep. Certain car parks in this town aren’t even attractive places in which to park cars, let alone take up residence.
What with the draughts, the danger, the exhaust fumes and the tell-tale stench suggesting the stairwells are often attractive places of relief for people caught short, sleeping in a car park is a bit like using certain budget hotel chains, but without the satisfaction of leaving a snotty review on TripAdvisor afterwards.
Car parks are, however, quite close to the town centre, which has lately become the subject of an order banning rough sleepers. When the order was put in place, some of us worried that rough sleepers would simply relocate to other places nearby but I’m sure the increase in the numbers at the car parks us just a coincidence.
Another coincidence in a similar vein happened a while back when we started handing Asbos out to street drinkers. Before those orders came along, it was quite common to be stopped in the town centre and asked for cash by people whose blood was about three fifths cider. Say no and they’d send you away with no hard feelings, a few snarled anatomical obscenities and perhaps a threat to set their dog on you.
Once the Asbos started to be handed out, though, all that changed. Now the drunks had to wait just outside their Asbo exclusion zone to menace members of the public. If they ventured inside that zone and menaced the public, they’d be in breach of their Asbo, and if they breached their Asbo more than about a dozen times, they’d be taken to court and given a stern telling off.
Thus chastised they’d be free to return to their favourite cashpoint encampment and continue being a danger to themselves and others.
A good way for our tax-funded authorities to address the problem of rough sleepers in our car parks might be to begin by counting them – assuming they haven’t been counted already.
If the number is greater than the number of beds available in hostels, emergency boarding houses and specialist facilities for substance abusers, that would be a cue to adjust the number of beds upwards.
An alternative strategy might be to have security staff forbid the rough sleepers from entering the car parks, but that would simply force them to find somewhere else to sleep rough.
Even worse, it might make the rough sleepers more visible and force us to acknowledge just how big the problem of homelessness is.
And that would be upsetting for us.