The Prime Minister has said she disagrees with a Tory council leader who called on police to clear rough sleepers from Windsor before the royal wedding.
Theresa May distanced herself from the remarks on Thursday when asked to comment during a visit to a hospital in nearby Camberley: “I don’t agree with the comments that the leader of the council has made.
“I think it is important that councils work hard to ensure that they are providing accommodation for those people who are homeless, and where there are issues of people who are aggressively begging on the streets then it’s important that councils work with the police to deal with that aggressive begging.”
Windsor and Maidenhead council leader Simon Dudley on Tuesday urged police to clear beggars and rough sleepers from the streets before the May 19 event, which prompted widespread outrage.
Dudley, who is currently in the US, sidestepped calls for him to apologise on Thursday, declining to comment on the matter when asked if he regretted his comments.
The Press Association reports that he instead said that the local authority had a homelessness action plan, adding: “We await a response from the PCC on the concerns we have raised.”
On Thursday, Murphy James, who works for the Windsor Homeless Project, accused the council of having “rat-infested” shelters, when he countered claims that the homeless were refusing help.
Dudley wrote to Thames Valley Police (TVP) seeking action against “aggressive begging and intimidation” and “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets and urged them to use their powers under the 1824 Vagrancy Act - which criminalises rough sleepers - and the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.
Writing to the force’s police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld, Dudley said: “As you will be aware from your officers, there is a growing concern amongst residents, businesses and visitors regarding the number of people occupying the streets of Windsor, who are begging during the day and in some cases taking occupancy throughout the night.”
The letter continued to explain the level of “tourist interest” was set to multiple around Price Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and suggested “there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety”.
James said his organisation had not heard any negative feedback about the homeless from the public: “Not at all... not from any member of the public I’ve ever spoke to,” he told the BBC’s Today programme, adding, “It is just not true.”
James also rejected suggestions from Tory Councillor Jesse Gray on Today that there were “persistent” beggars who “don’t really want help.”
Gray said bags left lying around, “are a security risk”, and that some beggars that refused help “persist and are hostile.... then I don’t see why they can’t (police) use their powers”.
Last year, 1.36 million people visited Windsor Castle and Frogmore House, which adjoins the castle, in Berkshire.
James said there was a valid reason some rough sleepers decline council assistance, citing the quality of the shelter the authority provides.
“If the answer (to being asked about rehousing) is a property in Southall, which is not adequate for anybody to live in. It is rat-infested, there’s bed bugs... then their answer is ‘no, I’d rather stay in a bus shelter’.”
Gray was unable to respond to that criticism saying he did not have “the exact details”, but went on to state what shelters were available in the borough - an emergency night shelter, open 365 days of the year, along with a day shelter.
Murphy also disputed the effectiveness of these services given people had to pre-registered with the council to use them and then be placed there, “it is not there for anyone who has just found themselves homeless.”
Gray countered that the council also provides transport services to take people “back to their home towns if they want to go there”, before returning to his point about homeless people refusing help.
The problem we have is most people that we have tried to help, accept the help... but there is a hardcore of people that just won’t accept this help, they want to use their sort of professional begging instincts.”
Gray disputed Murphy’s suggestion that the public wasn’t bothered by the homeless and beggars in the area, saying the council has a “list of people who complain, businesses, residents... and it is a problem, otherwise our leader, councillor Dudley, would not be taking things up as seriously as he has.”
But the Brett Foundation, a charity in Maidenhead, has said is “deeply disappointed” by Dudley’s calls.
Shelter’s Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns, Greg Beales, told HuffPost UK that people sleeping on the street “don’t do so through choice”.
He said: “They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and even violence.
“They desperately need our help, support and advice to move off the streets into safety and, eventually, into a home. Stigmatizing or punishing them is totally counter-productive.”
Thames Valley Police’s (TVP) Windsor branch responded to Dudley’s comments on Twitter, saying that agencies should work together to tackle homelessness.
Police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld said that his office and TVP work closely with the local authority and that these issues were not raised when he attended a council meeting in October.
“I will of course provide Councillor Dudley with a full response addressing his concerns once I have received the letter and investigated the issues he has raised further,” the statement added.
He described supporting the vulnerable, including the homeless, as a “priority”.
A report from Shelter, published in November, identified 307,000 people as being homeless in Britain - 4,447 of whom are sleeping rough.