A war of words has broken out between the deputy leader of Wrexham Council and local homeless campaigners who have today hit back over accusations that they are “doing more harm than good”.
The comments made by deputy leader Cllr Hugh Jones were aimed at members of the ‘Help Wrexham’s Homeless Group’, who along with campaigning for a public meeting to discuss the homeless encampment on the Groves site, have been regularly donating food and supplies to those on the site.
Yesterday Wrexham.com reported on the confusion over public questions at this week’s Executive Board, with campaigners from Help Wrexham’s Homeless submitting several questions to ask at the start of Tuesday’s meeting.
Such questions were not asked, with Cllr Pritchard stating in the meeting that “none were submitted”.
This has since been clarified with the questions, which were submitted prior to the deadline, now being dealt with as a Freedom of Information Request instead.
Comments have also been made by both council leader Mark Pritchard and deputy leader Cllr Hugh Jones about the authenticity of a petition submitted by the campaigners.
The petition, which was handed in on Tuesday morning, called for a public meeting to discuss the homeless issues in the town. However in the past 24 hours both Cllr Jones and Cllr Pritchard have commented on ‘fictitious names and post-codes’ on the petition, therefore making it apparently invalid.
Cllr Jones has issued a strongly worded statement, claiming those involved with the Help Wrexham Homeless Group are “undermining a lot of hard work” that is taking place between various agencies and those at the Groves encampment.
Cllr Jones, who is also lead member for communities, partnerships, public protection and community safety, said: “We have received a request for a public meeting from ‘Help Wrexham Homeless Group’ which is not a valid petition as it does not contain any signatures or addresses and has both fictitious names and post-codes from distant areas.
“In recognising the genuine concerns of many of their supporters, I repeat the offer from Cllr David Griffiths, Lead Member for Housing, and myself to meet with them. I wish to add that, however well-intended their efforts are, they continue to undermine the work of the Wrexham Community Safety Partnership with those occupying the site and are negatively affecting our ability to resolve the long-term issues from which they are suffering.
“We have repeatedly stated that this group is undermining a lot of hard work, and they are doing more harm than good.
“In the meantime, we are working with the official Wrexham Homeless Group and AVOW in a partnership that is bringing together all the resources needed to address the complex problems and I again ask this group to work with the established voluntary organisations already working in partnership.
“Many of the people on site are not homeless, and for those who are, it is vital that we are allowed to address the underlying issues that have led to their current position.”
However campaigners say that by scapegoating their efforts Wrexham Council are building a “smokescreen to divert attention from the very real issues”.
Speaking to Wrexham.com Angie Hammons, who is involved in the campaign group, said: We’re surprised that Wrexham Council have responded to the petition publicly, rather than first responding to us.
“The petition was done electronically via 38 degrees. This is pretty standard in this digital age, and as I recall is the same format used in relation to the proposed arts hub. It seems Wrexham Council had no problem with a digital format at that time, so I’m surprised that it’s now become an issue.
“In relation to distant addresses and fictitious individuals, the vast majority of digital signatures are from residents in Wrexham County Borough. Some are from neighbouring counties such as Denbighshire and Cheshire. There are no borders on humanity.
“It may be that the inclusion of the shadow chancellor’s signature is in question. I can assure the council that it is genuine. Mr McDonnell spoke about homelessness locally at an event in Glyndwr university last year and was happy to sign our petition, despite a pressing calendar.
“It is important for the council to be aware of exactly what we do, as to date they have relied on supposition and hearsay. We have provided, via donations, sleeping bags, clothing, food, blankets and tents. We did provide one small radio.
“We have researched the gaps in existing services and identified shortfalls between Thursday mornings and Friday evenings and at weekends. There is no food provided during these times, and we have made this our priority in recent weeks.
“We have encouraged the individuals on the Groves to engage with local services, and to seek help.”
She added: “The statement provided by Wrexham Council regarding numbers and tenancies is as vague and unhelpful as everything else that that they’ve said about the issue. How many of those on the Groves allegedly have homes? What is the scale of the problem? What services are available? One of our volunteers spent all day researching this, nobody seemed to have a definitive answer.
“It seems to us that by scapegoating our efforts Wrexham Council are building a smokescreen to divert attention from the very real issues.
“It has rained a torrential downpour for a week now and we’ve had winds of 70mph. Individuals have been sleeping in summer tents through all of that, and wading around in their own sewage.
“With respect to Wrexham Council, those are the issues that should be discussed, not whether our sausage sandwiches are doing more harm than good.
“The purpose of the petition asking for a public meeting is to enable all parties to come together to discuss solutions, and we repeat our request.”
We have asked Wrexham Council for details on what makes a valid petition, and will publish any reply to help the public in future.