Windsor council leader calls for removal of homeless before royal wedding

A council leader has demanded police clear his borough of homeless people before the royal wedding in May. Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, has asked Thames Valley Police to ‘focus on dealing’ with homelessness ahead of the wedding.

He tweeted of his concern at ‘an epidemic of rough sleeping’ in the borough and on Tuesday wrote an open letter to Anthony Stansfeld, Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley.

Simon Dudley, the council’s Conservative leader, wrote to Thames Valley police this week seeking action against “aggressive begging and intimidation” and “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets.

The letter, seen by the Guardian, follows a series of tweets sent by Dudley while on a skiing holiday in Wyoming over Christmas, in which he referred to “an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor” and said “residents have had enough of this exploitation of residents and 6 million tourists pa [per annum]”.

He tweeted that he would write to Thames Valley police “asking them to focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding”.

Tens of thousands of wellwishers and tourists are expected to descend on the picturesque town on the banks of the River Thames for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19 May in St George’s chapel at Windsor Castle.

The castle, founded in the 11th century, is one of the royal family’s main residences and where the Queen spends most weekends. It is open to the public, attracting 1.36 million visitors each year, with a family ticket costing £53.

Dudley’s letter, dated 2 January and addressed to Anthony Stansfeld, the police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, thanks the police for protecting the community and lists the council’s support services for vulnerable residents, including an emergency night shelter, a drug and alcohol support service, and a severe weather emergency protocol.

“Homelessness is completely unacceptable in a caring, compassionate community such as ours,” he says.

However, he goes on to say that the council has evidence that “a large number of adults that are begging in Windsor are not in fact homeless, and if they are homeless they are choosing to reject all support services … In the case of homelessness amongst this group, it is therefore a voluntary choice.”

Dudley also raised concerns about “the quantities of bags and detritus that those begging are accumulating and leaving on our pavements, at times unattended … this is a significant security concern, especially given the national importance of Windsor.

“Obviously, the level of tourist interest is set to multiply with the royal wedding in May 2018, and there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety. The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light.”

He suggests that Thames Valley police use their powers under existing laws – citing the 1824 Vagrancy Act and the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act – “including implementing criminal behaviour orders for the numerous offenders”. The Vagrancy Act criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

Stansfeld said he was surprised that Dudley’s letter had been “released publicly but not yet been sent directly to me”. The letter is copied to Theresa May, who is the MP for Maidenhead, and the home secretary, Amber Rudd.

Murphy James of the Windsor Homelessness Project, which has been operating since 2009, said there had been an increase in both visible and hidden homelessness in the town over the past year.

But the 1824 Vagrancy Act was “the most inappropriate way of dealing with the problem. It means treating people like they’re committing a crime, whereas there is nothing villainous in what they are doing,” he said.

The project had 50-60 people on its books and on a typical day helped 20-26 people, according to James.

He rejected Dudley’s suggestion that people were homeless or begging from choice. “For someone to ask for loose change, your self-esteem is at its lowest. No one does this from choice. We shouldn’t be demonising these people but asking them what we can do to help.”

He said that Dudley’s claim that the council runs an emergency night shelter 365 days a year was inaccurate. “People have to register in advance, it’s not emergency accommodation.”

The council needed to overhaul its care and support policies to cater for individual needs, he said. “I know it costs money, but if we help people we’ll save money in the long run in NHS and policing costs, and we’ll live in a happier town.”

Wisdom Da Costa, an independent councillor, said he disagreed with Dudley’s approach. “I don’t believe banging them [homeless people] up is the right thing to do,” he said. “What we need is a multi-agency approach, and that means putting money behind an effort to get people off the streets and dealing with the issues.”

Da Costa said homelessness had become “more visible and more persistent” in the town centre over the past year, but said he had not encountered harassment. “I’ve been delighted by the response of hundreds of people in Windsor, who have provided food and blankets, who care about these people and want decent solutions,” he said. Windsor was “a beautiful place, but there is poverty here, areas of deprivation. We are one people and we need to work together.”

Sam White, 18, who has lived in Windsor all his life, said he got to know most of the homeless people in the town centre over the past six months since starting work in the box office of the Theatre Royal. “There are quite a few now. If you walk down the high street, you might see six or seven, but there are obviously more hidden away,” he said.

“They don’t cause a threat to anyone. I’ve never seen any of them being aggressive. Obviously some have issues like drug addiction, but they’re nice people at the absolutely lowest point in their lives.”

White, who doesn’t give money but buys food and essentials for homeless people, said some did not receive help from the authorities. Some, but not all, asked passing members of the public for cash donations, he said, “but they’ve got nothing”.

He objected to the idea of a police drive to clear people out for the royal wedding, saying: “I’m sure if the council offered homeless people food and shelter for the day, they would agree to take themselves off the streets.”

The homeless charity Crisis has said that legal measures should only be used against homeless people as a last resort for genuinely anti-social behaviour.

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Source : https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/03/windsor-council-calls-removal-homeless-people-before-royal-wedding
Source : http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/03/council-leader-calls-for-homeless-people-to-be-removed-before-royal-wedding-7201720/

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