Labour-run Oxford City Council have removed a homeless man's sleeping bag and other possessions, in a new power that has been backed up with a £2,500 fine.
Photo Credit: Jan Bailey
The man, who was outside the Faculty of History on George Street, had most of his possessions removed by council officials and books left scattered in the wet.
This is part of new powers introduced in 2017 by Labour councillors to remove personal possessions, almost entirely affecting those rough sleeping, which come with letters warning of up-to-£2,500 fines.
In 2015, Oxford City Council introduced a £1,000 fine targeted at 'busking' and 'begging', shortly followed by a senior Oxford Labour councillor saying "I would like to go up to some of these rough sleepers and say 'you are a disgrace'."
Last year saw incidents of rough sleeping rise in Oxford, and 2018 is set to see the loss of Julian Housing and partial loss of Simon House, two homeless shelters that make up 154 beds in total. Lucy Faithfull House was closed in 2016, causing a loss of 51 beds.
In the 2016-17 budget, Oxford City Council failed to spend £400,000 of their homeless support budget.
In an interview with BBC News, Jan Bailey, a local volunteer helping the homeless, said:
"I was absolutely horrified. It may not have been much that this gentleman had, but it was all he had. To me it is unforgivable."
Commenting on the issue, local city centre campaigner, Conor McKenzie, said:
"This is appalling. We need to be doing much more to help some of the most vulnerable in our community, not taking away their possessions.
"Local Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed this power, along with its £2,500 fine, and called for more homeless support funding.
"With this winter being the coldest on record, and the council having to defer to churches and community groups to shelter people otherwise rough sleeping, it is beyond belief that the council should think to take away belongings - especially sleeping bags - is the right course of action."