SIGNS of rough sleeping in Southend High Street will be stripped away to help encourage shoppers back into the town centre.

Rough sleepers are being warned any possessions left cluttering shop doorways will be taken away and stored elsewhere.

It is one of a range of measures designed to reclaim the streets from aggressive beggars and drug fuelled anti-social behaviour.

Southend Council previously announced it would be introducing a new squad of community safety officers and have now confirmed they will be given some limited police powers as part of an accreditation scheme set up by Essex Police.

The new measures are due to be introduced next week along with extra support for those with drug, alcohol and anti-social behaviour issues.

The idea is to help those who want it and take action against those not willing to get help and just causing a nuisance, or worse.

Six uniformed community safety officers will begin work this week.

The £250,000 a year scheme was agreed in principle by Southend Council’s cabinet back in June under Mark Flewitt, then councillor responsible for public protection.

The details have now been confirmed following a summit of key managers and representatives of the police, council and businesses.

Councillor James Courtenay, deputy leader of the council, is spearheading the plan.

It relies on a number of agencies working together.

These will include street rangers from the Southend Business Improvement District.

Mr Courtenay said: “The community safety officers will take part in an accreditation scheme with Essex Police to allow them to work with street rangers and High Street police so there will be a lot more visible presence.

“We need a uniformed visible presence to make people feel safer but we also need to continue with engagement work.

“We need to get to know these people, talk to them and try to get them to engage with services.

“The team is for the whole of Southend but will initially work in High Street to be reactive where there are issues.”

The team will operate seven days a week, working into the evenings in particular trouble spots under the direction of the police.

Mr Courtenay said: “There will be a variable presence. We’re getting extra police and you could see a BID ranger or a community safety officer working with a police officer.

“It will be a big part of what we do but there are others things we need to be clear about such as no drinking in the High Street.

“We need to also be clear about begging and those giving them money.

“We need to differentiate between those who are definitely homeless and those for whom it is a lifestyle choice.

“There are better things people can do with their money like giving it to the charities who are helping to get people off the streets.

“Giving money to the homeless is just keeping them on the streets.”

He added: “The team will work across the borough and are conscious of displacement. “That’s whey we need sufficient resources to work with it and not just to move beggars on.

“We are working with BID, looking particularly at empty shop fronts where people choose to sleep.

“We’re also writing to landlords to say the area is being cleaned up and shops may be boarded up but we don’t want to put up loads of wood.

“There are also longer term plans which will involve looking at the empty shops in the High Street and how it needs to change. I see it becoming multi-purpose.”