A housing charity has criticised a Whitby town councillor for saying that some people ‘like sleeping rough’.
The housing charity Shelter criticised the comments made by Cllr John Nock at a meeting of Whitby Town Council on 9 January.
Cllr Nock, who made the comments when providing an update on the police’s Operation Winterwatch, said: “There may be a good reason for them being rough sleepers and we know there are those who just like sleeping rough anyway.”
The Conservative councillor for the Stakesby ward later clarified to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that “perhaps ‘elect’ would have been a better word than ‘like’”.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Nock added: “If you see rough sleepers, do notify the police on 101, and if there’s any action to be taken either for their own protection or the safety of anyone else then the police are the ones to undertake it.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Let’s be clear: no one is living on the streets because they like sleeping rough and you cannot criminalise people who have nowhere else to go.
“Homelessness happens when housing policy fails and boils down to people not being able to afford somewhere to live. No one who is homeless should be punished for a failure of policy.”
She added: “Private rents are at an all-time high and evictions are rising.
“This, combined with decades of government failure to build genuinely affordable social homes, has created a perfect storm that is tipping more and more people into homelessness this winter and sadly, we’re seeing a rise in people forced to sleep rough as a result.”
High rate of homelessness
In response, Cllr Nock said that whilst not on the agenda at that meeting, housing policy was “frequently brought into discussion at council meetings”.
“It would have been inappropriate for me to talk about homelessness and housing which were not the agenda item to which I was speaking,” the town councillor said.
He added that the police initiative “is in place to help [homeless people] find safe and secure accommodation”.
Research by Shelter has found that the Scarborough and Whitby area had the highest rate of homelessness for any area in Yorkshire last year.
North Yorkshire Council has said that it expects to spend more than £2m a year on providing temporary accommodation services, an increase of more than 400 per cent compared to pre-pandemic figures.
Ms Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, added: “Everyone at risk of street homelessness should be given access to suitable emergency accommodation.
“But to end homelessness for good, the solution is clear – we need all political parties to commit to building 90,000 new social homes every year with rents tied to local incomes.”