Wales

Police being 'heavy-handed' with Swansea homeless people

Ben, a homeless man who lives in Swansea
Image caption Ben backed police efforts to tackle professional begging, but said homeless people got caught in the middle

Police officers are becoming much more "heavy-handed" in their approach to homeless people, volunteers have said.

They said South Wales Police were trying to clear-up Swansea city centre.

One homeless person, Ben, said: "They've got very strict, to the point it's pretty bad. We don't get treated like humans."

Insp Rhys Williams said police were "determined to protect and help the most vulnerable in society" and tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

Ben lived in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire, until he lost his job and said he could not pay his rent once the so-called Bedroom Tax was introduced.

Once he was evicted, he moved to Swansea as there was more support for rough sleepers.

He said: "Every time they [police] see us in town walking around, they tell us to get out of town they don't want us to be seen.

"They treat us more like rats, I think, street rats. They don't want us here, we're in the way, we're ruining businesses and everything."

Image caption Volunteer John Davies said homeless people need somewhere they can sleep "without fear of being attacked"

For the past two years, volunteers have driven around Swansea on Sundays giving tea, coffee, cawl and hot dogs to rough sleepers.

One of them, John Davies, said: "All of the homeless, about two months ago, we would know where they were in Swansea. Now they're scattered, they're hiding in bushes, they're hiding in parks or they're in prison so it's much harder.

"Some people can't come to town anymore, there's one lady who's been banned for at least a year. The police have become much more heavy-handed."

He believes a secure zone for rough sleepers is needed, highlighting one such case in Bristol when a man converted a double-decker bus and fitted it with 12 beds.

Police denied deliberately targeting rough sleepers and said 11 arrests for begging had been made since August, resulting in seven convictions.

Insp Williams said: "We operate a street vulnerability marac (multi-agency risk assessment conference) where individuals are identified as requiring assistance, and suitable support is then offered.

"Unfortunately, not everyone identified by the marac process is willing to engage with this support.

"It is in these circumstances that we have been left with no option but to apply for CBOs."

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