There's tactless and then there's just plain heartless. The leader of Windsor council has called for homeless people to be removed from the area ahead of the royal wedding, due to take place in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on 19th May.
Conservative councillor Simon Dudley has urged police to use their powers to clear the area of rough sleepers immediately and requested an end to "aggressive begging", which he said created a "hostile atmosphere" for residents and tourists.
In a letter to Berkshire police and crime commissioner (PCC) Anthony Stansfeld, Dudley claimed that many adults begging in the borough are not really homeless, "and if they are homeless they are choosing to reject all support services to beg on the streets of Windsor," describing their lifestyle as a "voluntary choice".
He also claimed that homeless people's "bags and detritus" on the pavement posed a "security risk" to members of the public.
He continued: "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."
Dudley also tweeted about the issue last month, claiming that those engaged in "vagrancy and begging" were "marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash". He also alleged that some people were making hundreds of pounds a week and considered it their "profession".
Awkwardly, Thames Valley Police tweeted shortly after that it had received no reports of anyone being "marched" to a cashpoint in the area.
Homeless charities have reacted with understandable horror to Dudley's remarks. Murphy James, manager of Windsor Homeless Project, said it was "sickening" that the royal wedding had triggered Dudley's concerns, reported the BBC.
"If somebody is sleeping out on the street they are not there by choice; they are there because something has gone wrong. I went out on Christmas Day and there were 12 people laid out on Windsor High Street – they were not there by choice."
Earlier this year, the charity Crisis said legal action should not be taken against homeless people aside from in cases of genuine antisocial behaviour, and that 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,” added the charity’s chief executive, Jon Sparkes.
Meanwhile, Centrepoint pointed out that it was "not helpful" to conflate begging and rough sleeping, the Guardian reported. “Begging and rough sleeping are two distinct issues," said Paul Noblet from the charity. “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.”
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