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Poncho continues

December 08 2010
Hot-washing is back in the City of London


The practice of 'hot-washing' by the City of London Corporation under Operation Poncho appears to have picked up steam once more - despite the recent fall in temperature.

Ignoring criticism from homeless charities and advocacy group, members of the Corporation's outreach team (run by the charity Broadway) and the police are still moving on rough sleepers in the evening and washing down the areas where they have been sleeping.

According to the City of London's website, Operation Poncho is designed "to reduce begging and vagrancy within the City of London by ensuring that those involved received support from drug and welfare agencies."

There is concern the teams may simply be forcing people elsewhere by washing down the areas they have been sleeping. Depending on police availability, they go out in the evenings between 9pm and 1am roughly once a week.

Alison Gelder, the director of Housing Justice, paid tribute to the work done by the City of London with housing homeless people, but said she worried about the potential to disrupt vulnerable rough sleepers' sleep.

"They've done some amazing work helping people who've been out for a long time. Helping people to find somewhere indoors to sleep is really good, but disrupting them when there's no service available doesn't seem to be an ethical practice."

She said she would be "dismayed" if the police and outreach teams were actively disrupting people's sleep.

Asked whether the washing down was simply to clean the area or to discourage people from sleeping there, Ms Gelder said: "I think it's got a dual purpose".

Another council which had been involved with hot-washing is Westminster; however, they said this was no longer the case. Ms Gelder confirmed that she had been out with a council team, and hot-washing was no longer taking place in the borough.

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