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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Rough sleepers moved on then threatened with Asbos

September 26 2009
There is a huge gulf between churches such as St Marylebone and others like Hinde Street Methodist Church which see outreach as part of their mission The move-on of rough sleepers from the steps of Marylebone Church is only a single example of a squeeze on our readers that is affecting the whole of London.

As revealed in last month's issue, a number of rough sleepers were moved on from the Parish Church of St Marylebone, apparently following complaints about a minority of drinkers. But, far from being a localised incident, the move-on is now revealed as part of Westminster's new shift towards Building-Based provision for homeless people, and an attempt to dislodge rough sleepers regardless of the end result.

One of those affected, Steve, said that the move-on, while accomplished with the help of outreach workers, resulted in him being forced into another borough. He told The Pavement: "There had been months of talk about 'You're going to be moved on' with the final notice given in December, to move in January. Steve, who does not sign on and does not want to go into a hostel, found himself with no alternative but to move to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where he has since been threatened with an Asbo by a joint Outreach/Police team. "They had been saying it [the suggestion of an Asbo] for a while, but this was the first time it was said as a direct threat."

The Marylebone move-on highlights the deficiencies within Westminster's new strategy of clearing the streets of rough sleepers and failing to provide alternative options for those who don't want hostel accommodation – a policy that few wish to claim as their own. "At the time of the move on," Steve said, "the church was maintaining that it was as a result of pressure from the council that we were being asked to move on, while the council was claiming that it was the church that requested the move."

Mike Nicholas, communications officer at Thames Reach Bondway (TRB), said: "Marylebone Parish Church [had] expressed concern at the level of rough sleeping in the area and by some of the behaviour in the grounds of the church," and that, contrary to what we had reported, "the primary reason for the joint initiative was not instigated by a small group of street drinkers but by the numbers of people sleeping rough in the grounds of the church".

As mooted in the pages of this paper, the danger is if Westminster acts, others follow, as one London council official told this paper: "Westminster tends to be a trendsetter." Similarly, those who traditionally offer support to homeless people – often churches – find themselves under pressure to conform. The gulf between the attitude of The Parish Church of St Marylebone and that of Hinde Street Methodist Church, a quarter of a mile away, is a good example of this.

Hinde Street, the base of West London Mission, which works closely with the church, has resisted attempts to move on the rough sleepers, who have some drinkers among their number, who sleep around the church. Paul Thompson, Director of Social Work at West London Mission, told The Pavement: "The police are now making active moves to clear our steps, and move people on, which is something we are not happy with, as we are keen to stand alongside homeless people and work positively with them." Thompson pointed out that although they are not a haven for street drinkers, and do not wish to encourage such behaviour, the ministers of the church, such as Father Leao Neto, see part of their job as providing a sanctuary. We received no response from Marylebone Church, despite many emails and telephone calls.

Are you under orders to move from a regular sleeping spot? Let us know at The Pavement so that move-ons such as Surrey Street (the Strand) and Marylebone don't go unreported.