Homeless clampdown ahead of UK royal wedding sparks indignation
Britain’s planned crackdown on homeless people and beggars in the town of Windsor ahead of Prince Harry’s wedding with US actress Meghan Markle has triggered a political storm and indignation.
The royal marriage will be held on May 19 at Windsor Castle, the favored residence of Queen Elizabeth II located about about 32 kilometers (20 miles) west of London.
The wedding is expected to draw thousands of extra visitors to the picturesque riverside town that is already popular with international tourists.
Simon Dudley, the Conservative leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council, has urged the local Thames Valley Police force to take action against their “aggressive begging and intimidation.”
“A large number of adults that are begging in Windsor are not in fact homeless,” Dudley wrote in a letter. “This is creating a concerning and hostile atmosphere for our residents and the seven million tourists who come to Windsor each year.”
Dudley referred to an “epidemic” of homelessness and claimed that many beggars who were genuinely homeless had rejected emergency shelter in order to keep begging.
According to the business valuation consultancy Brand Finance, the event should draw hundreds of thousands of extra tourists to the town, normally home to just 30,000 people, in 2018.
Homeless charities reacted angrily Thursday to Dudley’s suggestion that homelessness should be treated as a police matter, rejecting the assertion that the homeless in Windsor are living on the streets by choice.
Greg Beales, a spokesman for Shelter, a charity that campaigns to end homelessness, said people sleeping on the streets are in desperate need of help, particularly in winter, when the weather can be dangerously cold.
“Stigmatizing or punishing them is totally counter-productive,” he said.
The Windsor Homeless Project manager, Murray James, was all the more shocked by the proposed clampdown as Harry and his brother Prince William have long been involved in work with the homeless.
“I am pretty sure they’re as outraged by the comments that have been made as I am and many of the Windsor residents are,” James told the AFP.
Homelessness in England is a “national crisis,” with more than 120,000 homeless children living in emergency accommodation, such as hostels, a UK parliamentary committee warned in December.
Homelessness is at its highest rates in central London, with as many as one in 25 without a home in Westminster and one in 27 with nowhere to live in Newham, according to a recent analysis by Shelter.