Call for council to come clean on ‘anti-homeless’ bars, as petition hits 3K

A former city council leader has urged officials to “come clean” over the decision to fit ‘anti-homeless’ bars to benches in York.

The intervention by Steve Galloway comes as a petition to remove the bars reaches 3,000 signatures – and ahead of a public meeting to discuss the controversy.

Steve Galloway told YorkMix there was “no transparency” in the decision-making process carried out by staff that led them to attaching six metal bars to two benches on Rougier Street.

Last month we revealed that the decision, taken on advice from the council’s transport team, had been branded “disgusting” and “sickening” by some residents.

Our attempts to find out more specific information such as which administration authorised their installation have so far gone unanswered.

Answers needed

Steve Galloway, Liberal Democrat leader of City of York Council from 2003 to 2008 said:

The council should come clean about who decided to fit them, when and what success measures they intend to use?

Rough sleeping was more or less eliminated in York around five years ago when the new Arclight centre opened and enhanced the work of the Salvation Army.

So I assume that the target is day time drinkers. These are a problem, but arm rests on public benches won’t make much difference.

‘Dire policy’

Richard Bridges, 48, from Holgate, who had set up the petition, told YorkMix he would be meeting councillors over the coming weeks to discuss the issue.

He said: “My aim is to say very simply that the bars need removing. Homelessness in York should be dealt with by supporting individuals not by stigmatising them.”

A man asleep under the new bars installed on a bench at a Rougier Street bus stop. Photograph: Jack Gevertz
A man asleep under the new bars installed on a bench at a Rougier Street bus stop. Photograph: Jack Gevertz

Richard said he had set up the petition because he was ‘outraged’ at what was going on.

He said:

I’ve never done a petition before and I guess in the past I’ve become slightly sceptical about the effectiveness of them but I’ve been quite overwhelmed at the response.

I set it up because I’ve become aware over the last year about more and more pervasive, dire policy direction towards this defensive or disciplinary street architecture that tries to displace homeless people. It doesn’t seem to have any further purpose to actually move them out.

It’s not the actual issue of a few bars on the benches, it is actually about how we, as a society, treat people who are in their most desperate state.

It’s just what we as a society are saying about those people.

Public meeting

York People’s Assembly are supporting Richard’s petition. They have organised a public meeting to discuss the question, “What next?”

It takes place on Monday, July 6 at 7pm, at the Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York.

Campaigners want to present the petition at the next full council meeting, “and possibly combine it with some other actions”.

To read the council’s reply to Richard’s email, go here.

‘Deterring anti-social behaviour’

A York council spokeswoman said they did not have an updated statement on the issue to provide to YorkMix.

They did reissue their original response to the story, now attributed to Steve Waddington, assistant director for housing and community safety:

Following complaints about anti-social behaviour in this area the council consulted with partners about these problems and was advised that the most appropriate action was to either remove the benches entirely or fit them with arms.

“Removing the benches would have an effect on all bus users, so the action taken this month was to put arms on the benches/ bars underneath them.

The aim of introducing these measures was about deterring recurrent anti-social behaviour by people who gather in this location.

“Through the ASB Hub we are taking a multi-agency approach to ensure that we are engaging with rough sleepers and are able to offer the support people need, whether that be in terms of finding accommodation or health provision.