Commissioner calls for rethink on stopping handouts to the homeless in Wrexham

Reporter:

Jonathan Grieve

A policing tsar has urged a senior councillor to think again about his call to starve homeless people of donations.

Cllr Hugh Jones, deputy leader of Wrexham Council, urged the public not to give handouts to the homeless on the site of the former Groves school site, claiming they are being sold on for drugs.

The camp was created just over a month ago after the site was saved from demolition in August 2016 following a successful appeal to Cadw to get it listed.

Since then there have been claims of disturbances and drug dealing by people living there.

It prompted Cllr Jones to say: “We’re getting reports back from those engaging with the people on the site that supplies of food and other donated items are being sold for drugs – this, obviously, only makes things worse.”

But according to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner and former Wrexham Council member Arfon Jones, the plea to stop giving gifts to the homeless was a mistake.

The commissioner, a former police inspector, believes the approach would be counterproductive and “exacerbate the problems” rather than improve the situation.

It would be better, said Mr Jones, for Ty Nos, Wrexham’s night shelter in Holt Road, to be open all day and not just for 12 hours at night.

Having the shelter open all the time would reduce the risk of anti-social behaviour that has upset residents and local businesses alike.

A recent visit to Geneva reinforced the commissioner’s view there was a need for a more enlightened attitude towards drug use, which treats addiction as a health rather than a criminal issue.

Along with Durham counterpart, Ron Hogg, Mr Jones met a former Switzerland President who in a previous role as health minister was responsible for an innovative approach to problematic drug use.

She oversaw the creation of a network of Heroin Assisted Treatment clinics and Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs), or “fix rooms”, where users can go to inject, snort or smoke drugs under medical supervision.

Mr Jones says the evidence in Switzerland further convinced him that SIFs could be the way forward in North Wales.

He said: “I sympathise with Cllr Hugh Jones’ attempt to deter compassionate individuals from making donations to individual vulnerable persons in case they sell them to obtain money for drugs,

“The truth is though that he’s missing the point because the nature and power of addiction is such that nothing else matters, their whole energy is focused on getting their substance of choice and they will get it by hook or by crook.

“If they don’t have the resource to buy the drugs they more often than not will resort to stealing to obtain it and selling donations must be preferable to committing crime; possessing drugs is unlikely to merit a prison sentence whilst theft, burglary or robbery certainly does.

“However, a prison sentence rarely turns the life of some who is addicted around.

“Blackmailing a problematic drug user rarely achieves a positive outcome or successful recovery

“Having spoken to many problematic drug users – not all of whom are homeless but who have multiple complex needs – they are aware they are causing a nuisance and have no wish to do so and would not do so if they had somewhere to go. I advocated some time ago Ty Nos being open 24/7.

“Acknowledging what Hugh says about individuals refusing to engage, we must recognise some are not ready to give up and to enter treatment. But we must seek to reduce the harm they cause to themselves and society in general by providing safe consumption rooms.”

Mr Jones thanked Wrexham MP Ian Lucas for supporting his call for the establishment of daytime facilities for homeless people.

Email:

jonathan.grieve@nwn.co.uk

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