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Westminster soup run byelaw "likely"

June 08 2011
Rough sleeping ban dropped following lack of support

 

Westminster City Council has dropped its proposal to criminalise rough sleeping around Westminster Cathedral Piazza. The council said the decision was made following lack of support for the rough sleeping ban in a recent public consultation.

Councillor Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for society, families and adult services, added: “Such a ban would be very difficult to enforce and would be a less effective means of achieving our aims".

However, in what will be a blow to many soup run organisers and users, Cllr Astaire told a recent Soup Run Roundtable that a byelaw banning soup runs is likely to go ahead.

The results of the public consultation, published in a document titled Transforming Lives, reveal that 161 respondents were in favour of the byelaw compared to 272 against. However, the report also says that the ban on soup runs was backed by “the majority of local people [..] Thames Reach, the Novas Scarman Group and Look Ahead Housing and Care.” It also summarises the reaction of Building Based Services (St Mungo’s, The Passage, Connection at St Martin’s) to the soup run byelaw as “non-committal”.

Following the consultation, the council has announced an eight-week ‘Discussion and Resolution period’ in which they will “hold further discussions with soup run providers to see if they could work in alternative ways to help rough sleepers”. However, they warn that “if no solution can be found, the council will look to progress the byelaw.”

The latest phase of discussions began on Saturday 21 May with the Soup Run Roundtable. The meeting - attended by residents groups; hostel representatives; police; members of the Soup Run Forum; Janet Haddington, Westminster Council’s manager of Rough Sleeping and Street Activity; and other interested parties - was chaired by Cllr Astaire and Thames Reach Chief Executive Jeremy Swain. While Cllr Astaire told those present it was likely the ban would go ahead, Mr Swain (an opponent of soup runs) gave no sign of any disagreement, tweeting afterwards: “Soup run roundtable v. encouraging. All thoughtful and eager to build consensus. Concerns of local ppl heard sympathetically”.

A second, smaller meeting of just eight parties is set to take place during the week beginning 30 May. According to the consultation document, it will be used to “finalise any agreement or discuss enforcement of the byelaw”.

Following this meeting, “the cabinet member” - presumably Cllr Astaire - will present the proposed approach to a meeting of the Full Council in July.

The news of Westminster City Council’s U-turn on the rough sleeping ban came less than two weeks after FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, condemned the “worrying” increase in the criminalisation of rough sleeping in Europe.

In a statement dated 29 April, it said: “It is an alarming development that major European cities, including Madrid, London and Prague, are proposing and adopting repressive and coercive measures, threatening to expel homeless people from public spaces.

“These measures are cruel, since they punish the poorest and most vulnerable. They are also ineffective, since they only make homeless people invisible by hiding them from the wider society but do not offer any real solutions to tackle homelessness.”

FEANTSA, which represents more than 150 homeless organisations across Europe (including Housing Justice, Homeless Link, The Big Issue, Crisis and Shelter), spoke out following the decision by Budapest City Council to make rough sleeping an offence punishable by fines of up to 200 Euros and possibly police detention.

FEANTSA communications officer Suzannah Young told The Pavement: “There has been some opposition from homeless organisations [.,] but it’s not certain the city will listen to them because it’s just cancelled its contract with homeless organisations in Budapest - it’s also quite contradictory that they’ve severed their ties with the homeless sector and then have imposed this ban.”

FEANTSA is also keeping an eye on developments in other cities. In April, the mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, called for legislation to sweep homeless people off the streets - by force if necessary - prompting outcry from local NGO groups. While in October of last year, Prague City Council approved plans for an out-of-town homeless camp or “integrated assistance centre”. Prague City Councillor Jirí Janecek’s justification was, according to a FEANTSA statement: “they [homeless people] are a sanitary and safety risk, and they are not nice to see”.

FEANTSA is also hoping to draw on the expertise of its housing group, Housing Rights Watch, which launched in 2008. “One of the ideas for future development [at its creation] was towards strategic litigation,” said Ms Young, “We don’t know yet whether that will happen but I think there’s a willingness to work on issues regarding criminalisation of homeless people.”

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