THE council has come under fire for suggesting that blocking off an area used by rough sleepers is a “gentle approach” to homelessness.

Wiltshire Council’s Portfolio Holder for Streetscene Atiqul Hoque posted pictures of hoardings underneath the Maltings car park, stating: “A gentle approach taken to tackle rough sleepers” and congratulating the council for its efforts.

The car park had become a camp for homeless people, street drinkers and drug users, including makeshift rooms with beds and furniture.

Cabinet Member for Housing Richard Clewer said: “We have boarded off the site not because of the rough sleeping but because of the street drinking and drug taking that has been occurring on the site over the last couple of months.”

Some commenters agreed with the decision, with Cyril Nelhams writing: “About time it was getting scary under there for people parking their cars” and Steve Webster asking: “Is this the new policy towards any problem in Salisbury – close your eyes, put your hands over your ears and scream loudly until the problem goes away?”

But others criticised the approach and said the council should do more to help rough sleepers rather than moving them on.

Austin Cohen, founder of the Austin Cohen Global Foundation, which supports vulnerable people including the homeless, said it was “shocking”. Responding to Cllr Hoque’s post he said: “That’s not a gentle approach. While not all homeless people who stayed under the car park were street homeless, no measures have been put in place to help those who are genuinely street homeless without local connections who want to get off the streets.

“More needs to be done beyond the stats and politics. We acknowledge the incredible work done by multiple agencies but please address real issues and do not post such comments, which are insensitive and patronising.”

Cllr Clewer said there had been three people left sleeping rough at the site, and that others had been helped by outreach workers in the past few weeks. He said they had all chosen to move on and taken their belongings.

“My outreach workers will continue to engage with the rough sleepers on a daily basis and work with them to try to get them into appropriate supported housing (something we do not and cannot force people to take but encourage them to take up),” he said.

The barriers will be in place temporarily while Wiltshire Council discusses a long-term plan for the area.