LONDON (ViaNews) – The Royal and historic town of Windsor is not one normally associated with controversy, but in the run-up to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the head of the local council is making front page news.
The town is perhaps most famous as the home of the Queen’s residence, Windsor Castle. It is here, in St George’s Chapel, that the upcoming royal wedding will take place. Nearby are Ascot Race Course and the Wentworth Golf Course with its multi-million-pound houses, home to the rich and famous, nestling amongst the fairways. Over the river, the sons of the rich are educated at Eton College.
But the Tory leader of the council has stirred trouble by demanding that police use their powers to remove all homeless people from the streets before the town’s big event in May. Simon Dudley began his campaign with a series of tweets, made while he was on a skiing holiday in Wyoming during the Christmas period.
Although not in the town himself during this period, he claimed that there was an ‘epidemic of rough sleeping’ in Windsor, and that ‘residents have had enough of this exploitation of residents and 6 million tourists.’
He then wrote to Thames Valley Police, asking them to sort the homelessness problem in time for the royal wedding, which is happening on the 19th May.
In the letter, Councillor Dudley lists the services available for the local homeless people and recognises that the condition is not acceptable in caring, compassionate communities. He then goes on to claim that a large number of beggars in Windsor are not, in fact, homeless, but are seeking to gain financial reward by begging from tourists, and have no intention of utilising local services.
He describes people in this position as making a ‘voluntary choice’ to be on the streets. He asked the police to set about removing homeless people, using vagrancy laws dating back nearly 200 years.
Dudley has been supported by colleagues on the local Council and has also raised concerns regarding the number of bags and other ‘detritus’ left on the streets, which he feels could be a security and safety problem as numbers of visitors increase.
However, he has also met with opposition. Prime Minister Theresa May’s constituency is in nearby Maidenhead, and she has said that a more compassionate approach is needed for dealing with homelessness.
The Windsor Homelessness Project has been operating in the town since 2009 and helps around 25 people a day. Its spokesperson, Murphy James, says that the problem is getting worse in Windsor. The average house price here in the Berkshire town is over £560000, nearly five times the cost of, say, Stoke on Trent. Murphy says that the using the 1824 Vagrancy Act will criminalise people already suffering severe impoverishment. ‘For someone to ask for loose change, your self-esteem is at its lowest,’ he said.
Murphy, who works with a total of around 60 people, also challenges Simon Dudley’s claims regarding facilities for the homeless. While accepting that the town does run a shelter, he points out that this is not an emergency facility, and places have to be booked in advance. He also identifies the fact that there are a growing number of ‘hidden homeless’ people who receive no support, either charitable or official.
He agreed with Independent Councillor Wisdom Da Costa’s point that the answer was to direct extra funds towards the problem.
Local people working in the town centre disputed some councillors’ claims that the homeless people were aggressive, sometimes accompanying tourists to cash points to get money. Most of the homeless were good people severely down on their luck, claimed local worker Sam White. Even those suffering from addiction problems were polite, and those that did beg did so quietly and from the lowest point of their lives.
There is a certain irony in this sad story. Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was heavily involved in the homeless charity Centrepoint, and both of her sons have been involved with the charity since her death. They may have little sympathy with Councillor Dudley’s final point – ‘The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light.’