BY ED WEST
PROPOSALS for a ban on soup runs and rough sleeping outside Westminster Cathedral are being considered by the local authority in a move branded “callous” by the Labour opposition.
Westminster City Council is seeking to pass a bylaw that would prohibit soup runs from operating in a designated area around the Cathedral.
Victoria, where the Cathedral is located, is close to large train and bus stations and attracts many for homeless.
A spokesman for the council said the measure was being taken “in a particular area which suffers disproportionately from the negative impact of soup runs”.
He said: “Westminster believes that food handouts only serve to keep people on the streets longer, damaging their health and life chances. For many years the piazza and surrounding area has been the destination for soup run organisations, a number of which travel into the city from across the capital and even outside of London.
“Up to 100 people at a time can congregate on or around the piazza while food is being given out, turning it into a nogo area for many residents and businesses with issues around litter, urination, violence and disorder.” While Labour councillors have attacked the proposal as “cold-hearted and callous”, the council argues that soup run encourage homeless, a view that is supported by some charities. Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach homelessness organisation, said: “Street handouts do little to help people make the step away from rough sleeping. Instead they frequently prevent people from facing up to the reality of the harmful lifestyle they have adopted.” Charles Fraser, chief executive of St Mungo’s homeless charity, added: “While we recognise the compassion involved in providing food to vulnerable people, those in distress and rough sleeping need services that will support them off the streets for good and give them the opportunity for longer-term better housing, health and work as they move on with their lives.” A spokesman for Westminster Cathedral said it would be responding to a consultation on the proposals in the coming weeks. He said: “Care for the marginalised and vulnerable is at the heart of the Gospel and Westminster Cathedral has a long association with local charities including the Passage and the Cardinal Hume Centre, which try to ensure that those who sleep on the streets are found shelter, and we will continue to work closely with them to make sure solutions are found for the needs of the homeless in the Victoria area.”