What Does this Press Release Actually Mean?

Another blog alerted me to a report from Independent Catholic News which highlights the terrible effects of a local law making it illegal to give food to the homeless. ICN reports...

'We've been sent a cautionary tale by the St Vincent de Paul Society in Florida, USA, where it is already illegal to feed homeless people in public parks. The tell us the Orlando Sentinel reports that three people last week were arrested, accused of illegally feeding homeless and charged with violating an ordinance restricting group feedings in public parks. The ordinance requires groups to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per year for each park within a two-mile radius of City Hall. Arrest papers state that the three helped feed 40 people Wednesday night. The ordinance applies to feedings of more than 25 people. Police waited until everyone was served to make the arrest.

“They basically carted them off to jail for feeding hungry people,” said Coleman. “For them to regulate a time and place for free speech and to share food, that is unacceptable.”

Orlando Food Not Bombs has been feeding the homeless breakfast on Mondays for several years and dinner on Wednesdays for five years.

The penalty for violating Orlando’s ordinance is 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.'

Nice, eh? Jailed for giving a homeless man a sandwich. Unfortunately, there are attempts to make it so here. I had thought that Westminster City Council had backed down on making sandwich-giving illegal, but I am now not so sure. There's no way His Grace Archbishop Vincent Nichols would allow that. He'd be furious with the injustice of it and he'd make that sense of righteous fury known to the media.

On the 24th of May, Westminster City Council issued a press release on the 'negotiations' with agencies, which I guess includes representatives from the Mother Church of England and Wales, concerning the homeless in the Westminster piazza. The piazza is, I assume after all, the property of the Cathedral. This is the outcome. My emphases, bold, deep purple.

Westminster meets with soup run providers to seek solution

Tuesday, 24th May 2011
Westminster Council has met with soup run providers to seek a solution over their distribution of free food in and around Westminster Cathedral.
At a meeting on Saturday (May 20), discussions were held on how the council can work with soup run providers to help to find ways in which volunteers can give their time to help the homeless.
The consensus among those attending is that indoor provision of indoor soup runs is the most preferable route forward (Got that? Indoors good. Outdoors bad -  it's good but it doesn't 'look' good).
A committee, made up of providers, homeless charities, residents and the council, has now been established to look at the options to do this.
Westminster wants to work with soup run providers to reach a long-term arrangement to get people off the street and into long-term support to help improve their lives.
The council has decided not to proceed with the rough sleeping byelaw in a designated area in Victoria and its aim is to see whether there are alternatives to a soup run byelaw. If no solution can be found, the council will look to progress the byelaw. (Well, thanks for telling us your game plan WCC. The aim is to see whether there are alternatives to a soup run byelaw. If WCC decides there are no alternative to it, they'll do it anyway. Surely the 'alternative' to making it illegal to give sandwiches to the homeless is to keep it perfectly legal to give sandwiches to the homeless?) 
Cllr Daniel Astaire, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for adult services and health, said: "Our entire approach to homelessness and rough sleeping is about improving people’s lives. We don’t believe that soup runs in their current form help to achieve this and this meeting is one of the many steps we will take to see if we can address these concerns while supporting soup run volunteers in their laudable aim of helping those in need. There is willingness from all sides to harness our collective resources to explore a way forward – most immediately through the establishment of the committee - and I hope that all parties will rise to the challenge to avoid having to go down the legislative route."
Jeremy Swain, Thames Reach Chief Executive, said, “The meeting was extremely constructive. This is an issue that invokes a passionate response and it was valuable to have an open and frank exchange. The consensus is that indoor provision of soup runs is the best option to explore, as well as the contribution volunteers can make in other settings, such as hostels. To find a practical solution will require on-going dialogue between residents, the soup run providers, charities and the council – and this meeting has been helpful in paving the way to do this.”
Charity Thames Reach, The Passage and Crisis as well a number of soup providers and residents were among those who attended the meeting at Westminster City Hall.'

It is pretty obvious that this is phase one of a stitch up. The press release employs some quite benign sounding doublespeak. I've no doubt in my mind that the plan of Westminster City Council is to go down the byelaw route - but only if they can get away with it - only if they can convince people that all other avenues have been exhausted. The questions: How many homeless people were given the opportunity to speak at this meeting? Do these people get no say in how they are treated!? Oh no! God forbid that a homeless man should sit at the table and give his opinion! Heaven forbid! Much better that men from Crisis and Thames Reach, probably an annual salary of £35,000-£75,000 a year should give the Council the homeless man's opinion!

This stinks, and to high Heaven too. What kind of vipers are the Westminster City Council! The great crime, the huge, glaring sin here is that all of the agencies, including the Council, are marking out homeless men and women as being of a different status to other men and women. If a friend buys me a sandwich and gives it to me in the piazza, then that is not a crime, but under the potential byelaw, giving a sandwich to a homeless man would be punishable as a crime. That is ridiculous. It is beyond parody. It is unspeakably evil to give any credence to the notion that somehow homeless men and women are different kinds of persons, or 'sub-persons' or even 'non-persons'.

Thank God that His Grace Archbishop Vincent Nichols will never allow this byelaw to get passed. He will do everything within his power to stop this. He will defend his poor from the rooftops of the Cathedral, from the pulpit, in the Council, outside the Council, in the piazza, to the media, to the people, because he is a brave, courageous and benevolent Father in God to the poor. His Grace is a true champion of the Church's treasures. He will never allow them or the Faithful who show the poor kindness to be subjected to a brutal and inhuman law that denies their fundamental human rights. He has never publicly betrayed the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ before. He will never do so again.


Left-footer said…
This is very alarming, and great that you have picked it up. In a cold winter, soup can save lives. I know, having worked with homeless people.

On another tack, do I (perish the thought!) detect a note of irony in you comments on a certain....?

No, bless him! Tell me I must be mistaken.
Claire said…
@ Left-footer and Bones

I'm just finishing a course on textual criticism and the last lecture was on reader response. The text means what the reader takes it to mean. At least I think that was what it was!
Dear Laurence, I can't tell when you are being serious. Either the text is just too subtle for me or you mean what you write.
Based on what you have written before I think you are being subtle or ironic as L-footer says.
Anyway it's an interesting report and you feel injustice keenly.
John Kearney said…
About 40 years ago I worked in a Government Reception Centre for the homeless. They got a bed and good meals. Then suddenly they were gone. Many of these homeless men whatever the reason do not like living in hostels or accomodation hard though it may be to beleive. There will always be homeless sleeping in the streets who have to be provided for and the best thing civil servants or councils can do is keep out of the way.
motuproprio said…
The piazza outside Westminster Cathedral is not part of the Cathedral precincts, and is in fact leased by Westminster City Council from the freeholder.