The Christian charity Housing Justice have said that Westminster Council have decided to
push ahead with preparing a by-law to ban rough sleeping and soup runs in part of their borough. Recent reports that the plan is to be abandoned appear to be inaccurate.
The council triggered widespread outrage when they suggested the possibility of criminalising soup runs earlier this year. A government minister recently suggested that councillors were no longer favouring a "legislative approach".
But Housing Justice stated yesterday afternoon (7 April) that they understand that work on the by-law is continuing. The charity's Director, Alison Gelder, said she was "deeply disappointed to learn that Westminster Council will continue with this draconian law which will criminalise compassion". Housing Justice convenes the London Soup Run Forum.
If it goes ahead, the by-law will apply to a designated area in the region of Westminster's Roman Catholic cathedral. A number of charities operate soup runs in the area. Gelder said the by-law would "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.
The proposal was opposed by a number of London-based groups, including Churches Together in Westminster, the Coombe Trust, the Passage Day Centre and Quaker Homeless Action.
They were joined by national organisations including Church Action on Poverty, the Methodist Church, the British Medical Association and Liberty. The Methodist Church described the proposed by-law as "Victorian".
Other charities argued that soup runs are not effective, but they have not generally spoken in favour of banning them. St Mungo's, while critical of soup runs, said that they are not in favour of banning rough sleeping.
Campaigners have staged two mass "lie-down" protests in the area concerned, and hundreds gathered on the 20 March for a street party against the by-law. Housing Justice said that the campaign against the by-law will escalate following the news that Westminster Council is pressing ahead with the ban.
The Coombe Trust has threatened to defy the by-law if it comes into force, by continuing to distribute soup in the area. Jad Adams, from local homeless charity Nightwatch, took a similar view when the news broke yesterday.
“I would consider it a civic duty to defy an unjust law and encourage others to do the same," said Adams.
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 area if they “lie down or sleep in any public place”, “deposit bedding” and distribute free food and drink. Housing Justice say that this by-law will affect the 1,600 people it is estimated sleep rough in Westminster each year, many of whom bed down in Victoria, the area that includes the zone designated by the by-law.