Charities condemn call to clear homeless ahead of Royal Wedding

Council leader responsible is on the board of the Homes and Communities agency.

homeless

The Tory council leader who called for the homeless to be cleared from Windsor ahead of the Royal Wedding sits on the board of the Homes and Communities Agency.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, was one of four new HCA board members appointed by DCLG secretary of state Sajid Javid in February last year.

At the time Javid said: “These appointments will bring new skills, knowledge and considerable experience that will be of real benefit to the HCA’s Board.”

Homeless charities have diplomatically described Cllr Dudley’s comments as ‘disappointing’.

Thames Valley Police – to which Cllr Dudley wrote urging the clearance, with the PM and Home Secretary copied in –  said: “We need to protect the most vulnerable in society by working together but each agency must understand its own unique responsibilities.

“Housing is the responsibility of the council but it is better that agencies work together so people don’t become homeless.”

Cllr Dudley sent the letter to the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner suggesting that the 1824 Vagrancy Act and the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act should be used against rough sleepers and people begging on the streets in Windsor ahead of the Royal Wedding at Windsor Castle.

In tweets posted by Dudley while he was on holiday in the USA over Christmas, Cllr Dudley said the occasion should “focus minds” that – due to tourism – Windsor was was “different and requires a more robust approach to begging.”

He also claimed that people begging for money were “marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” but police said they had not received reports of this.

Charities working with the homeless said recourse to the law was not the answer.

The Brett Foundation, a charity in Maidenhead, said it was “deeply disappointed” to hear that Cllr Dudley had “sought action against the homeless people in the royal borough, rather than seeking action to help them”.

Daniela Boyd-Waters, a trustee of the foundation, said: “While we understand that begging can be intimidating, our services and our experience with these extremely vulnerable people highlight even more that they need help.”

She acknowledged that “they may not accept help at first, because of their mental health problems, their potential drug/alcohol addiction and, more often than not, their pride”.

But, she added: “It’s time for the council and the local community to tackle homelessness together. And not just remove the problem, but address the root cause of it and provide top level support to those who need it most.”

“Stigmatising or punishing is totally counterproductive,” said Greg Beales of Shelter.

Paul Noblet of Centrepoint said: “Begging and rough sleeping are two distinct issues, and it is not helpful to conflate the two.

“The best way to help rough sleepers is to get them off the streets and into an environment where they can access the long-term support they need.”

Under the Vagrancy Act it is a criminal offence to sleep rough or beg and there were around 1,500 convictions under the law in 2016.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act replaced antisocial behaviour orders with criminal behaviour orders.

Last year raised concern at the extent to which councils were targeting rough sleepers with criminal behaviour orders saying enforcement can help only if used against genuinely antisocial behaviour and accompanied by meaningful support and accommodation.

Crisis said that 56% of rough sleepers surveyed by the charity said the experience of enforcement orders had added to their feeling of shame at being homeless, and a third said that enforcement had just made them move elsewhere to sleep.

The charity’s chief executive, Jon Sparkes, said: “People shouldn’t be targeted simply for sleeping on the street.

“In fact, homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, and rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general public.

“They deserve better than to be treated as criminals simply because they have nowhere to live.”

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