What is a ‘street drinker’? Perhaps you see them as people who hang around in groups, ruddy faced through years of alcohol abuse and poorly dressed? On the ragged edge of society, a nuisance to some of us and intimidating to others.
Except that is too simple. The only word you can be sure of in that definition is that they are people, real people with a reason for finding themselves where they are now.
They are also a regular cause for complaint in my in-tray. One local councillor highlighted the problem in the local press, claiming the police had ‘pushed them out of the city centre to Kingsholm’ and then failed to enforce a city-wide Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). What he was really saying was the police should have moved them to somewhere other than his ward. Frankly, it is not that simple as he should know.
Gloucester’s ‘City Safe’ programme does a pretty good job of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour in the city centre. It is a partnership approach involving the police, city council and businesses operating there. Civilian City Protection Officers are a welcoming presence, jointly funded by those organisations.
When my office agreed to help pay for them, it was on condition they would not simply move people on the streets to another part of the city when they had nowhere else to go. Sadly, ‘street drinkers’ come into that category and the funding was conditional on a problem-solving approach, not just one of displacement.
Moving these people on is simple, the sort of ‘nimby’ approach that is easy; but the police don’t start with enforcement, just as they didn’t give tickets for minor breeches of lockdown. They probably wouldn’t pay it anyway, though they would find money for drink.
The clever bit is what you do with these people. Who are they? Are they ex-servicemen fallen into alcoholism because of previous traumas? Do they just like to get drunk for fun? Their lives may not appear much but they are human beings.
The police must enforce PSPOs if necessary, but other agencies must step up and find them somewhere to go? We can’t leave them under a railway arch to slip away after one drink or one injection too many. The civilised approach is to find out why they are drinking and do something about it.
That is the uncomfortable truth.