A couple of bad decisions and we're homeless - Argus Friday April 8th 2016

Posted Monday 18th April 2016   By Ericka Waller

So Worthing and Adur Council have decided to introduce new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) making it possible for the police and local authority officers to give beggars on the spot £50 fines. Daniel Humphreys, Worthing's Conservative Council pushed for the news laws claiming there have been a rise in 'aggressive begging'. In fact, only yesterday he experienced an example of such behaviour but 'Couldn't give any details'. He has also hinted that his poor poppet of a daughter could be scared of going into town because of the aggressive begging. 'I am a 36-year-old man and confident, but I can see the perspective of other people who could be intimidated' Perhaps he should try and see the perspective of the homeless people relying on our kindness to survive, and how the laws are the equivalent of pest control. I believe we are all a couple of bad decisions away from being homeless. I have seen friends on the verge of vagrancy. I have spent a lot of time with the homeless people in Brighton. On our monthly Friday night dates, my husband and I do a late night coffee and burger run down North Street. I can't walk past people bundled in sleeping bags, myself full of overpriced food and not feel guilty, not feel the weight of the change in my handbag, that could help.

Upon sitting and talking to these people, what they want more than money, is to be seen. To be acknowledged. Homeless people seem to trigger our most primitive instincts. Some people want to help, some run away, and some, like Daniel Humphreys, want to get rid of the problem altogether.

A kind word can warm as much as a hot coffee, even a mere nod of the head. I've sat on damp cardboard alongside the people in Brighton, been tossed the same looks they receive, when less than half an hour earlier, I was having my chair pulled out for me and a linen napkin placed in my lap.

Perhaps Humphreys should spend some time eye-level with the problem. As a very wise man once told me, never look down on anyone, unless you are giving them a hand up. How is humiliating and fining people for having no money helping them, and how will it tackle the problem of homelessness? Why should the streets only seem safe for a Conservative Councillor's daughter, why can it not be safe for everyone, including those who call the streets their home?

As Josie Appleton, of civil Liberties group Manifesto Club said 'It is entirely ineffective legislation. The orders fast-track people into the criminal justice system - rather then divert them away from it'.

Surely someone elected to local government would have the foresight to realise that dealing with the root cause of the problem, not the outcome would be a far more effective, sustainable and humane strategy. Fining someone who has no money clogs up the penal system, and pushes people further into the gutter.

Do we then fine them for not paying the fines? Perhaps the Police would sit watching until they had managed to 'beg' £50 before issuing the fine. That's a whole lot of coins to be carrying around, if they imposed a few fines a day.

And finally, I was disgusted to see a photo on facebook advertising baby-gros for baby girls with the slogan 'I hate my thighs' embossed on the, next to a boys version with the caption 'I am super' in the style of Superman. What the hell? How can we ever teach our daughters about self-love, and our sons to see beyond body-shape stereotyping when companies like Wry Baby make clothes like these? The vest did not sell as well as their 'love my for my leg rolls' version. Why are they protecting fat awareness on babies?

When we will finally get over the skinny thing and realise that strength, And no, donating some of the proceeds to a women's charity does not make it ok.  and happiness comes in well being?
I have big thighs, and I love them. I worked hard for them, running, cycling and squatting. Fit is the new skinny and strong is the new pretty. If we must put slogans on t-shirts can it not be stuff like this?

My four-year old daughter is the size of a six-year-old. She could eat her pre-school mates for breakfast, she looks like one of the teachers. Every time someone remarks on her size, I laugh, and I cringe. I don't want her to go to school being called 'Big Bliss'. I just want her to be.

I am reading the book Wonder by R J Palacio to my daughters before bed. It's about a boy who has severe facial deformities, trying to live a normal life, trying to get through secondary-school. The reactions that the child face are extreme, but illustrate that an unusual appearance will always be first point of comment, however hurtful. We need to create the notion from a young age that is no such thing as normal.