THE anti-social behaviour of a small group of rough sleepers in Falmouth has escalated to such an extent that the town council is being asked by police to install railings and gates to make the area less desirable to them.

Falmouth's police inspector Ian Thompson told a meeting of the town council's cultural services committee that drug taking and drinking among the group in and around public buildings in Falmouth's town centre has become a daily drain on police resources.

He said the small group habitually use the steps to the Municipal Buildings on The Moor to bed down at night and seek shelter during the day, but it is their behaviour that is causing the real problem.

He accuses them of taking drugs out in the open and in public toilets, drinking in the alcohol-free zone and says their anti-social behaviour is reported to the police on an almost daily basis, sometimes several times a day.

He has now asked Falmouth Town Council to play its part in finding a solution to the problem.

Outlining the issue to councillors, Insp Thompson said: "The Municipal Building steps are a gathering point/honey pot for a number of Falmouth's homeless street drinkers. The steps provide shelter for them to sleep overnight and to socialise during the day.

"It's not uncommon for a group of four or five individuals to be using the steps to sleep overnight. As a result large amounts of litter, alcohol cans and other tobacco and drug related paraphernalia left behind. The wooden benches on The Moor are considered the 'fair weather' option that the street drinkers and homeless community often use as a place to meet."

The resulting problems include drinking in the no alcohol zone, drug taking, outbreaks of violence (usually between the group itself) and also intimidating behaviour towards council staff and members of the public.

"The attraction of the homeless to the area is having a detrimental effect on the perception of Falmouth from both locals and visitors," said Insp Thompson. "I have heard information that supports people feel intimidated and fear the effects of crime in the area due to the gathering of these groups and their activities."

Over the Christmas period the police used dispersal orders to move the group on, and direction to leave notices have been served on individuals, but this is not considered a long-term solution as they require an intensive use of police resources to enforce.

Insp Thompson has now asked the town council to consider placing railings/gates at the front of the Municipal Buildings to prevent the group gaining access. "This will prevent homeless street drinkers from gathering on the steps outside of business hours and reduce the attraction of the area as a place to drink and cause ASB (anti-social behaviour)," said Insp Thompson.

"Combine this with the ongoing proactive police action, it is felt that the issues surrounding the street drinkers and homeless community can be greatly reduced. I understand that this will displace the regular frequenters and in order to support them I will ensure we engage with the county council homeless support workers, Cornwall Housing, Addaction and health providers."

The issue was put before the town council's cultural services committee when members were told there could be an issue installing railings, should they decide to go down that route, as the Municipal Buildings are listed.

PC Mat Cummins told councillors: "The inspector is asking the council, under their duties under the crime and disorder act, to help us to help you. We are not talking about homelessness here, we are talking about anti-social behaviour. It's about protecting our public spaces.

"They have become a problem daily for us. We just do not have the resources to babysit and deal with them all day, every day, but I don't have the answer. If displacement is all we can do, that's what I'm willing to do to stop them drinking here and frightening people. It's not about pushing the homeless problem under the carpet, but street drinking and drug taking is illegal."

Councillors were told that sleeping rough for some of the group is "a lifestyle choice" and they are not interested in securing a home.

The police and town manager Richard Gates are to meet Amanda Addo, Cornwall Council's rough sleeping strategic head, next week, so councillors agreed to look at the issue again after that. They made it clear they didn't want any action taken while the weather remains so cold, but accepted there is a problem although are not sure of the solution.

Councillor Jude Robinson said: "It is something we have to take very seriously. If the railings went up we would still have to deal with the problem - same problem, different place."

Councillor Trish Minson added: "We could put a temporary barrier up and if that has the effect and moves them somewhere else, we could look at something more permanent. I am just concerned about what happens to the people when they are moved on."

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