Dozens of people marched through the streets of Chelmsford chanting 'Homelessness is not a crime!" in protest against council proposals.

Proposals by Chelmsford City Council for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) have been met with strong opposition from members of the public and the Homelessness is Not A Crime campaign group.

The PSPO, if approved, would prohibit certain activities within a set area of the city.

The order, which would run for three years and be reviewed annually, would include begging, alcohol consumption in a manner which causes harassment, alarm, distress or nuisance to others, rough sleeping but only where this causes antisocial behaviour and accommodation has been made available for the sleeper.

It would also cover the distribution of free literature and publicity unless for religious, political or charitable purposes, fly-posting and placing A-Boards or other advertising structures in public spaces.

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition against the PSPO, which was delivered following the protest march last night, arguing that homeless people should not be fined for sleeping rough.

Andy Abbott, of Homelessness is Not A Crime, said: "Homeless people regularly encounter anti-social behaviour from others.

"For instance, a homeless person sleeping rough is thirteen times more likely than the rest of us to be the victim of a violent assault, and forty-seven times more likely to be the victim of theft.

"Furthermore, two-thirds of rough sleepers surveyed said they had been insulted by a member of the public, and one in ten said that they had been urinated on.

"These are appalling statistics, and the wording of the City Council's proposed PSPO potentially allows the City Council to fine a homeless person sleeping rough when they fall victim to such shocking examples of anti-social behaviour.

"We believe the council have altogether much more sinister plans.

"The council know full well that they will never successfully collect fines from people who have by definition next to nothing.

"Instead this is a form of social cleansing, with the council wishing to clear the city centre of homeless people."

The council has insisted that the PSPO would not prohibit or criminalise rough sleeping but would control anti-social behavior and added that it would not issue any fixed penalty notices or fine anybody breaching the part of the PSPO that relates to rough sleeping or who is, or appears to be, homeless.

A spokesperson for Chelmsford City Council said “The Council is not going to fine anyone in breach of that part of the PSPO relating to rough sleeping.

"Instead, the PSPO will be used to encourage people to access the services they need.

"Many people who sleep rough are given assistance from services that can help them to find accommodation.

"However, there are some who refuse these services and who cause anti-social behaviour, and this is the next step for flagging up and helping those people.”

The PSPO will be discussed at a meeting on Tuesday night.

View the plans here: