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Council quashes rumour over Strand soup runs

March 20 2013
Westminster Council will not prevent charities from distributing food to homeless people


Westminster City Council has categorically denied rumours that charity groups will be prevented from distributing food to homeless people on London’s Strand.

The council was responding to claims that soup runs would no longer be able to provide hot drinks and meals for rough sleepers in the area, and that restrictions would be enforced by law.

Nik Ward, head of rough sleeping at Westminster Council, said: “We can state – categorically – that we will not be preventing any soup runs from doing their work. Quite the opposite, we welcome soup runs and are keen to work alongside them.”

Mr Ward added that although the council had “no desire to outlaw soup runs on the Strand”, it would be working alongside soup runners to identify alternative ways to help rough sleepers.

Councillor Rachael Robathan, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Adults Services, told The Pavement: “We recognise that everyone who helps with soup runs on The Strand or elsewhere is acting from the best motives - but this may not be the most effective way of helping homeless people.

“Many of the people receiving food on The Strand are not homeless at all and for those who are, the quick turnaround of handing out a mug of soup provides little chance for volunteers to engage with them, find out why they’ve ended up on the street and help to find solutions for them.”

The council is working with Thames Reach and Housing Justice to find “more effective ways for these volunteers to help homeless people get away from the streets”, she added.

The council is also looking at expanding soup runs in the King George hostel in Victoria. Ms Robathan said this “allows homeless people to be fed and treated with the dignity, allows helpers to befriend and engage with them, and therefore provide a real opportunity to make a difference”.

The Passage supports the council’s new approach. Rose Hickman, project worker for the faith-based group’s coordination project carried out by The Passage, said that charities should be working towards “effective and lasting ways of helping homeless people”.

“There is no danger of Westminster preventing soup runs from operating; this is all about seeking different ways of helping homeless people together”, she said, admitting that local businesses and community members feel there are currently ‘too many’ soup runs operating in a tiny area of The Strand near William IV street.

“We are encouraging the groups that serve on The Strand, many of which travel in from other boroughs, to review their approach and consider supporting a local homelessness project or serve food from an indoor venue, where more meaningful engagement, support and advice can take place.” Volunteers should be encouraged to find new ways to support the homeless community, including training as mentors/ befrienders and volunteering with an outreach team.

“We have had some very useful conversations with soup run groups and a number of different ways of helping homeless people have been proposed, with the main focus being on local solutions.”