Letter painted unfair bleak picture of town

Your correspondent Roy Harris (Letters, July 18) paints a bleak picture of Hastings and St Leonards with his assertion that our town is becoming the beggar centre for the south.

He claims that Bexhill and Eastbourne don’t have such problems, but in fact there are street communities in most large towns across Sussex.

Inevitably they generate a range of issues which the police and other agencies must seek to address, but Mr Harris is mistaken if he thinks we simply sit on our hands and do nothing.

Only last week St Leonards was the focal point for a ‘pop-up’ hub, an idea born in London and already tried successfully elsewhere in Sussex to help those who live on the street.

Over the course of three days, beggars, drinkers, drug addicts, rough sleepers and the like were pointed towards agencies able to help them, all gathered in one place to make access easier.

Food and shelter were provided and we had an excellent response from a section of society to whom the authorities are often regarded as anathema.

Nearly 40 turned up on the first day alone and, working together, agencies were able to source potential jobs, accommodation, medical help, relocation and provide other positive assistance.

It also gave officers involved a chance to gain a better understanding of those who make up the local street community, why they are there, what they do, how they can be helped and so on.

Nine rough sleepers were identifed and a total of 21 homeless people housed.

Of course, we could simply invoke the Vagrancy Act and arrest beggars, but this does nothing to solve the deeper problems which create street communities in the first place.

Were Hastings to provide permanent shelters, perhaps converting old churches as Mr Harris suggests, it would quickly become a magnet for homeless people from far and wide - the very ‘doss house of the South’ he seeks to avoid.

That is the key to pop-up hubs, of which we now hope to have more - they point the way to a more settled lifestyle but require active, positive participation from the street community over the longer term.

As to Hastings becoming a no-go area at night, this is something I would again refute. Police have been working hard to address anti-social behaviour that often emanates from drink and drug abuse.

Security staff at bars and clubs are properly trained and affiliated and we have been trialling their use of body worn video cameras to help identify persistent troublemakers. Nor are officers slow to take action when the situation demands, and indeed some were recently injured while breaking up a fight and making arrests to restore order.

Our local radio station, Arrow FM, has recognised the contribution made by local officers by presenting a community award to PC Nick Marriott, of our Neighbourhood Policing Team.

Excellent work is also being done by the Street Pastors, Bar Watch and the taxi marshals to make Hastings and St Leonards a safer,more pleasant place in which to live and work, or to visit.

I hope others will acknowledge the many positive things being done and consider how they themselves can help.

Engaging with police to identify and weed out offenders, drinking responsibly, not giving money to beggars and thereby encouraging them. These are just some of the ways they can assist.

Chief Inspector Paul Phelps

Hastings district police commander