Westminster Council considers banning homeless food runs

It will be illegal to give food to a homeless person in Westminster, if laws proposed by the City Council  are introduced.  The council decided this week to continue with the process of preparing a by-law to criminalise rough sleeping and the distribution of food to homeless people around Victoria in London.

Alison Gelder, director of Housing Justice, a charity which leads the London Soup Run Forum, said: "We are deeply disappointed to learn that Westminster Council will continue with this draconian law which will criminalise compassion and conflict with the good work being done by the Greater London Authority and voluntary groups to end rough sleeping."

Westminster Council closed a month long consultation on the by-law on Friday 25 March, after receiving over 500 responses and petitions. This contentious by-law has been opposed by a diverse range of voices including the Methodist Church, Liberty, The Passage Day Centre in Victoria, the British Medical Association, Churches Together in Westminster and Church Action on Poverty.

Campaigners have staged two mass 'lie down' protests in Victoria, and hundreds gathered on 20 March for a street party against the by-law.

The campaign against the by-law will escalate now the news that Westminster Council is pressing ahead with the ban has broken. Jad Adams, from Croydon homeless charity Nightwatch says that if the by-law comes into force "I would consider it a civic duty to defy an unjust law and encourage others to do the same."

Meanwhile, members of the London Soup Run Forum are preparing a new code of conduct with which they plan to self - regulate their activities in the face of criticism from Westminster Council.

The proposed by-law will fine people in the Victoria area if they lie down or sleep in any public place, deposit bedding or distribute free food and drink. This byelaw will affect the 1,600 people it is estimated sleep rough in Westminster each year, many of whom bed down in the Victoria area. Many voluntary groups hand out food in the Victoria area, especially at Howick Place behind the House of Fraser. These groups will be facing the possibility of moving or being fined for their charity if the ban goes ahead.

Westminster Council tried to ban soup runs across London in 2007, but following public outcry the proposal was not included in the London Bill.

Housing Justice is the national voice of Christian action in the field of housing and homelessness. They support night shelters and hundreds of practical projects nationwide by providing advice and training for churches and other community groups who work with homeless people.

For more information see: www.housingjustice.org.uk

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