News From The Pavement: Dispersal Zones

By Londonist Last edited 102 months ago
News From The Pavement: Dispersal Zones

The Pavement is a magazine written by a team of journalist volunteers about, and for, the homeless. The magazine covers everything, from obituaries of long term rough sleepers, to the small print changes in policy from the corridors of powers. Anything that is of interest and importance to the hundreds of people on the streets of this city. This has become increasingly important in recent years, given the Mayor's plans to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012.

We're delighted that The Pavement will be contributing regularly to Londonist on this issue. First up is a look at the lengths local London councils will go to for rough sleeper free streets.

DZlogo.jpg Last summer, The Pavement's reports into Operation Poncho - a City of London's scheme to wake rough sleepers in the middle of the night to "wash" where they were resting with freezing cold water - hit national headlines. Their night disturbed, many homeless people reported their inability to sleep, and felt it was a brutal attempt to damage them psychologically. Human rights legal teams labelled the process inhumane.

In response, The Pavement launched its Rights Guide for rough sleepers to help them understand what they must and must not do when approached by the authorities. It is not illegal to sleep on London's streets.

This month, the magazine reports on the increased use of Dispersal Zones within the capital. These are regions within the city that a borough has decided is a particular problem, or "hotspot" for what comes under the conveniently vague umbrella term "anti-social behaviour". Within a DZ, police have additional powers to move on any individual or group considered to be behaving anti-socially or threaten them with an ASBO which could lead to a criminal conviction or penalty. DZs have been hailed as a means to protect residents and support local businesses against crime but scratching beneath the jargon, another interpretation of the DZ is a licence for the police to move on the homeless. They do not need to be breaking the law: simply having a drink in the park, bedding down in a shop doorway or sitting on the ground is enough. And as Pavement readers have told us, people having a few tins in the park aren't the ones committing the crimes.

There are over a hundred Dispersal Zones in existence. There is no official requirement to inform the public or electorate, save for a badly laminated council letter on a lamp post. Their use may continue to be expanded, without public scrutiny or awareness, as the Olympic games approach. Where do rough sleepers go when they are moved on? Deeper into the suburbs and further away from the charities and authorities set up to help them.

The Pavement is working to plot, measure and gain feedback on London's Dispersal Zones. If you live within one, travel through one or work in one please get in touch with us. Do Londoners even want homeless-free streets by 2012? Do let us know.

By Rebecca Wearn, Pavement Reporter.

Find out more about The Pavement and read it online. Contact them with feedback by leaving a comment or emailing them direct.

Last Updated 19 April 2010