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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Designing you out

June 01 2009
Planning around a London cathedral highlights a common problem The homeless are to be "designed out" of Westminster as part of the Council's new ¬¨¬£4m Action Plan to regenerate the area surrounding the Cathedral and prevent anti-social behaviour. Opposition has, broadly, been overruled. Members of London soup-run charity Streetlytes UK claim their voices have been drowned out by the noise of bigger business interests. Key stakeholders - including Westminster Cathedral, The Passage day centre and local businesses, many of which the council hopes will match-fund its ¬¨¬£2.8m - are enthusiastic about the proposed developments to Westminster Piazza and Wilcox Square. The draft action plan, which was open to public consultation on the Council's website, stated: "We will ensure that designing out crime is one of the key priorities when assessing and developing the new design proposals for both the Piazza and Wilcox Place. "Though the driving force behind both briefs is to promote good urban and landscape design principles so as to create exciting new public paces, it would be negligent not to recognise how design could help reduce or eradicate certain types of anti-social behaviour". The report goes further stating that soup kitchens, in particular, create problems. Rudi Richardson, a former drug addict and rough sleeper, is the executive director of Streetlytes UK, whose soup run provides food, clothing and company for homeless people in Westminster. Two months ago, Council authorities moved his soup run on from the Westminster Piazza, where it had been operating for 16 months, to the less visible spot behind House of Fraser shop 500 metres up the road. He claims the move was motivated by business self-interest. "I didn't feel I had a leg to stand on confronting these people, even though our motives are right and we're trying to do good," he says. "The council weren't interested. We are part of the Soup Run Forum and want to find a unified solution that incorporates homelessness, but the Council is only interested in working with building-based agencies. "They think we don't have the experience or the knowledge, but we are a group made up of ex-homeless and ex-addicts who can connect with street homeless as we've been there." Concern remains about where those moved on would go. There will always be a hardcore of street homeless who will not feel comfortable engaging with services, Mr Richardson explains, and his organisation attempts to meet people on their level. "I'm not trying to compare services. It's not that one is better than another: we need them all," he says. "I just want to work in partnership with them when trying to find solutions" . The Passage is one such building-based homelessness charity that has been involved in developing the proposals. Mick Clarke, its chief executive, dismisses any suggestion that homeless people were being unfairly marginalised: "The Passage supports the redevelopment of the Piazza, from a viewpoint of it being a welcoming and vibrant place for all the community, but would never support an aim of simply 'designing out' rough sleeping, as such an aim would be shortsighted and would simply ‚Äö?Ñ??move on' rough sleeping to another area. "The Passage would never support legislation that outlawed rough sleeping. We also fed in [to the consultation] that The Passage would never support street cleansing being used to move rough sleepers on." The Council's latest count, which was independently verified, found 86 rough sleepers in Westminster, plus 25 rough sleepers from A2 and A8 (Eastern European) countries. It denies any intention of dispersing these people, who may appear unsightly to the 8,000 visitors who pass through the Cathedral's doors each week. A spokesperson says: "The Cathedral Piazza is a world-class square, and the Draft Action Plan is aimed at ensuring this is recognised. We have no plans to target rough sleepers in the area in an aggressive way." Cathedral authorities say they are keen to support all those working with the needy, and cite their help to The Passage in nearby Carlisle Place. "The cathedral has always had great compassion for working with some of the most disadvantaged in our society, including homeless people," Mr Clarke agrees. An independent survey commissioned by single person homeless charity Crisis into the effects of soup kitchens is due out early this month (July); many hope it will provide some clarity about the best way forward. But the researchers at the London School of Economics say the results are not conclusive. "Soup kitchens serve a purpose, and are not all good or all bad," says one LSE spokesperson. "Westminster won't be able to use the result to say they should be moved on."
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