I was out with the homeless last week in Croydon and Bromley and I found out that council leaders want to use “all available bylaws” to ban a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless.
The kitchen, run by volunteers and set up by charity Nightwatch, provides food and drink for sometimes up to 50 people an evening in Queen’s Gardens. But a secret council report says the soup kitchen is causing antisocial behavior in the town center and affecting nearby businesses.
The charity received the council’s Voluntary Organisation of the Year Award last year.
Efforts to prevent it from using Queen’s Gardens, which it has done for more than 30 years, are detailed in a yet to be published report entitled Town Centre – Food Provision. The document was discussed at a meeting of senior councillors and council officers. It said the soup kitchen ban is part of a wider effort to tackle antisocial behaviour in the town centre specifically aimed at “street drinkers, beggars and other rowdy behavior”..
The soup kitchen is held every night of the year on the upper level of Queen’s Gardens.
It sees volunteers from churches across the borough give out donated food and drinks – as well as toiletries, duvets and clothes – to the homeless and destitute, and can attract up to 50 people a night. But the council believes its customers are a public nuisance.
Nightwatch were informed of the plan to ban the soup kitchen and wrote a letter to the council stating there were not any issues. However, the report said: “Police do not agree and the data supports the police view”. “The soup kitchen attracts individuals that we are actively targeting into the area,” it adds.
The report details a number of bylaws covering Queen’s Gardens which could be used to stop the soup kitchen, and notes that people who breach them are liable to be fined up to £50.
The report also says the soup kitchen could be moved to a different location, but adds the preferred approach is to close it down “utilising all available bye laws and preventing the use of Queen’s Gardens for this activity”.
Statutory homelessness in Croydon is at an eight year high and, during a count completed last Tuesday, rough sleepers were also found to be at record levels.
We have to work together to face these challenges in society, not attack each other over different manifestations of the problem.