A controversial decision to confiscate the tent of a suspected rough sleeper in Ely has been defended by East Cambridgeshire District Council.
At around noon today, the tent was seen being loaded onto two vans from a meadow on Lisle Lane, where it had been based for some months.
The action has been slammed by numerous residents on social media, with many expressing sympathy and solidarity for the popular man, often seen hanging out in central Ely.
One woman wrote: “How dare the council treat people like that? Where is their humanity? It’s totally disgusting and theft.”
Another called the decision “cruel”, with many others expressing concern for the man’s welfare and questioning the timing of the confiscation.
Today the Met Office issued a weather warning across the country, particularly across southern and eastern parts of England.
Yesterday local police put a statement on their Facebook page, advising residents not to give money to beggars and insisting that there are no rough sleepers in Ely.
Today the council’s housing and community safety manager Angela Parmenter defended the decision to seize the tent, saying the man had been warned in advance.
“We have advised this individual on several occasions alerting him to the pending removal of the tent. He has also been offered numerous rooms in shared houses and temporary accommodation in one of our hostels.”
Council officers were out and about today, talking to “three people who appear to be homeless”, including the man in question, she told Spotted in Ely.
“The East Cambs homelessness team goes out daily into the district and with the launch of severe weather provision procedures (SWEP), they will go out and offer night accommodation as well.
“All three have again been offered emergency accommodation but all three have refused and have stated that they are not actually sleeping rough.”
According to the council and police, there are no homeless people in the district.
But the council does work together with The Lighthouse in Ely to provide temporary shelter when temperatures plunge below zero, under the SWEP policy.
Pastor Giles Cornell said the church has been open at night for over a week but so far, no one’s taken up the offer.
However, they do sometimes provide shelter for people of no fixed abode, he said.
“We will give them a nice, hot meal and a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning.The most we’ve had is two at a time. We can take three.
“We only take men because the women can be housed somewhere else.
“The message is we’re open.”
Pastor Cornell said the Lighthouse has opened under the SWEP policy several times already this year.
When temperatures are likely to dip, he receives a notification from the council, and visits locations where known vulnerable people tend to hang out, advising them that the church will open its doors to provide shelter.
The pastor said he’s regularly pleaded with the man whose tent has been seized to take up the offer, but it has been declined.
“People in Ely are so kind and generous. I know he gets food and drinks all the time. It’s a temporary fix. What is needed is a longterm solution.”
Homelessness is a complicated issue, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all response, he added.
“We come across people with traumas in their lives, maybe mental health issues, maybe substance abuse. We can give them a bed for the night. It can’t be a longterm solution.”
He advised against giving money to potential rough sleepers, saying it’s better to contact organisations such as Shelter, or ECDC, whom he says take a proactive stance on the issue.
“If people give [them] a couple of quid they could be funding a drug habit.”
According to Shelter, most homeless people aren’t on the streets, although government records released in January show that in Autumn 2017, 4751 people were sleeping rough in England – a 15% increase in a year and the highest number since records began in 2010.
You could be legally homeless if you’ve been illegally evicted by a landlord, an ex-partner’s changed the locks, have nowhere to stay, at risk of violence or abuse, staying in a night shelter, emergency short-stay hostel or women’s refuge or can’t afford to stay in your home.
Pastor Cornell advises anyone coming across a suspected rough sleeper to contact the council’s out of hours emergency hotline on 07710 978900.
“There’s no reason for anyone to be homeless or go hungry in this day and age.”