|A homeless man beds down on Victoria Street, Westminster|
'Campaigners have expressed alarm at a proposal by Westminster Council to ban rough sleepers and the charities who care for them, from the streets around Victoria. Westminster Council has opened a four week consultation on a new byelaw which will fine people in the Victoria area if they “lie down or sleep in any public place”, “deposit bedding” and distribute free food and drink.
This byelaw will affect the 1,600 people estimated to sleep rough in Westminster each year, many of whom bed down in the Victoria area. Voluntary groups hand out food in the Victoria area, especially at Howick Place behind the House of Fraser. These groups will be facing the possibility of moving or being fined for their charity if the ban goes ahead.
|Funny how the Councillors all have shelter...|
Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice said: “While we completely understand the problems experienced by residents in this area, this byelaw, which is an attack on civil and religious freedoms, is a completely over the top response. It also cuts across the successful work that Housing Justice and others are doing to reduce both rough sleeping and the need for food distribution on the streets.
”The consultation period is running until 25 March. The London Soup Run Forum, convened by Housing Justice will be releasing further information when it becomes available. Westminster Council tried to ban soup runs across London in 2007, but following public outcry the proposal was not included in the London Bill.
Housing Justice is the national voice of Christian action in the field of housing and homelessness. They support night-shelters, drop-ins and hundreds of practical projects nationwide by providing advice and training for churches and other community groups who work with homeless people. They work by uniting Christians and churches of all denominations across the country to work for change. They embrace partnerships with people of all faiths (and none) who share their values of social justice and compassion.'
|Westminster Cathedral piazza: Where the homeless are fed.|
As our Tina said, Caritas in Veritate is something we can all agree on. Well, the bits about social justice anyway. Diocesan Justice and Peace Co-ordinator! This is your big moment! Round up the team and go tell the Council exactly what you make of them and their wicked plan!
Sleepless nights are what many homeless men and women experience daily. It can't be easy sleeping in a doorway where you're not sure if someone is going to piss on your, spit at you, offer you a cup of tea or set you on fire, especially in London. Sleepless nights are what the Councillors of Westminster should be having, but then again, there's no guarantee these Councillors listen to their consciences. We know that the Archbishop will be experiencing considerable anguish upon hearing this news, for he is called by Christ to be Shepherd to his flock and to be a Father to the Poor.
Interestingly, it just so happens that the Archbishop is giving a seminar at the London School of Economics 'Forum in Religion' public lecture on Wednesday 2 March 2011. What a marvelous opportunity this will be for him to condemn the action proposed by Westminster City Council, whose thinking on homelessness is so obviously informed by the cold-hearted economists of the London School of Economics (or the 'Libyan School of Economics' as one Telegraph blogger describes them). Archbishop Vincent Nichols will apparently 'be speaking about the importance of religious freedom, and arguing that promoting religious freedom increases our capacity to do good in the public square.' How apt! The public 'piazza' even!
It was in 2008 that the London School of Economics was commissioned by Westminster City Council and Crisis to publish detailed research into the 'effectiveness' of Soup Runs in Westminster, so this news should not totally surprise us. It is, to put it mildly, an audacious proposal for a Council that understandably does not really want to face up to the fact that Dickensian poverty still exists right outside their doorstep. It must be awful for these Councillors stepping out and nearly treading on a beggar. Cardinal Basil Hume, on the other hand, faced up to it and set up The Passage to help homeless men and women in London find their feet, which was a lot more than Westminster City Council's ever did for the homeless of the City. The Council's response appears to be somewhat more, well...Dickensian. Oh my! Even Stephen Fry will be upset about this! Even hardened atheists will be upset about this! Imagine, then, how furious the Archbishop is or will be, when he finds out! I would not like to be in the shoes of the man making this vicious assault upon the homeless and destitute.
'Soup runs have no place in the 21st century and it is wrong and undignified that people are being fed on the streets. Handing out free food only serves to keep people on the streets for longer, damaging their health. There is no need for anyone to sleep rough in Westminster as we have a range of services that can help them off the streets to make the first steps towards getting their lives back on track.'
Hmm...Wouldn't that just sound so much more convicing if it were a quote from a rough sleeper! Who should we write to? I think Daniel Astaire might just be our man. The Archbishop, I doubt, needs our encouragement, but just in case he has not heard of this proposal...