A homeless charity has hit out at a decision to prosecute a man for sleeping rough in what is thought to be the first criminal prosecution of its kind in Doncaster.
Christopher Clinton Wilkinson – who was said to be sleeping in the woodland surrounding a hospital because it was the only place he felt safe – was hauled before Doncaster magistrates.
Representatives from Doncaster-based charity The M25 Housing and Support Group said using anti-social behaviour legislation to criminalise people sleeping rough was a ‘significant concern’.
Wilkinson, aged 40, was given an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to failing to comply with a Community Protection Notice on October 5 – but told the offence would stay on his record.
Prosecuting at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court, David Sheppard said it was the second time Wilkinson had been found sleeping in the grounds of St Catherine’s Hospital in Tickhill Road, Balby, after struggling to find accommodation.
Mitigating, James Gray said: “His situation is an unfortunate one.
“He suffers from mental health problems and is clearly out of the care of mental health services at the minute and not receiving any medication.
“He told the police he felt safer being in the grounds of the hospital sleeping rough than anywhere else.
“He was in his sleeping bag when police woke him up.”
Mr Gray said Wilkinson had struggled to find accommodation but was hoping to receive help from Doncaster Council and M25.
Community Protection Notices and Orders are issued under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act – legislation introduced last year to stop ongoing environmental anti-social behaviour.
Specialist housing advisor Vince Bell of M25 said: “It is of significant concern that the police and local authority are using what can only be described as Dickensian measures to tackle rough sleeping in Doncaster.
“Using anti-social behaviour legislation to address issues such as rough sleeping is not going to help but will hinder their situation.
“Dragging a vulnerable rough sleeper in front of the courts to give them a criminal record serves only to exacerbate their situation.
“This would appear to be a new mindset which undermines all the hard work M25 has done to dispel myths and convince communities that rough sleepers are not to be feared and can be supported to change their lives.”
Mr Bell said the police should be offering support to those who find themselves sleeping rough rather than criminalising them.
He added: “Considering the person in question suffered with mental health issues and was sleeping in the woods within the hospital grounds because it felt safe, then it would appear we have lost all sight of humanity and good sense.
“If you judge a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable then I believe we have failed in this instance.”