09:00AM, Friday 29 December 2017
A war of words has broken out between Thames Valley Police and the leader of the Royal Borough over rough sleepers in Windsor.
As tourists queue to get into Windsor Castle, across the road at least 10 men and women can be seen sleeping in doorways and bus shelters.
Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside) took to Twitter on Wednesday to say ‘sadly there is an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor’ which he would be asking police to ‘focus on dealing with’ before the royal wedding in May.
When challenged by other Twitter users, Cllr Dudley went on to call Windsor’s homeless problem ‘largely vagrancy and begging’, claiming some are ‘marching tourists to cashpoints to withdraw cash’.
Windsor police replied on Twitter saying: “We need to protect the most vulnerable in society by working together but each agency must understand its own unique responsibilities.
“Housing is the responsibility of the council but it is better that agencies work together so people don’t become homeless.
“We deal with reports of begging proportionately but we have not had reports of anyone being marched to cashpoints to take out money.”
Cllr Dudley said there was a need to separate those with a genuine housing need with connections to the borough, who he said would be offered accommodation, from those engaging in ‘voluntary commercial activity’.
Cllr Dudley’s comments, made while on a skiing holiday in America, have been criticised by people working with the homeless and those living on the streets.
Yesterday (Thursday), the Express spoke to a 40-year-old man who is sleeping in a bus stop in the High Street. The former conservatory fitter, who asked not to be named, has been sleeping rough for four months after a closure order on his rented house meant he lost the tenancy.
He said he has been offered temporary accommodation in Southall but is unwilling to take it as his elderly mother lives locally. In response to Cllr Dudley’s claim homelessness is a ‘commercial life choice’ he said this applied to only a minority.
“It has been really hard and it is absolutely freezing,” he said.
“People’s generosity gets me through and it is always those who can’t afford it who help.”
Another man, who also asked not to be named, has been in and out of the temporary accommodation in Southall.
The 42-year-old asked for people not to ‘judge everyone the same’, adding: “It is very hard, you have to put up with loads of abuse.”
Murphy James, manager of the Windsor Homeless Project, branded Cllr Dudley’s comments ‘disgusting’ and described the Southall accommodation offered by RBWM as ‘rat infested’.
He said: “It shows he hasn’t got a clue. He has quite obviously never walked even an inch in their shoes.
“It is absolutely disgusting he is putting out such an opinion that it is a commercial life choice.
“Even if they do have homes, there is a reason they are on the streets. In order to beg you have to have the lowest level of self confidence.
“Having a key to a front door does not make everything better.
“The main reason they end up back on the streets is that they are lonely and the only thing they own in life is a sense of community.
Mr James added the royal wedding should not be the only reason for helping people on the streets.
“I am a royalist but it should have zero to do with the royal wedding,” he said.
“Nobody in this country should be on the streets.”
The candidates standing in the upcoming Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner election have outlined their priorities for policing in the region.
A petition has been created by a Windsor resident which calls on the borough council to improve safety at a blackspot junction.