Churches' group welcomes recognition of housing as a human right

By staff writers
November 23, 2011

Churches' action group Housing Justice has welcomed the recognition of the human rights dimensions of homelessness at a leading awards event.

The recognition came as the housing NGO was shortlisted for a Liberty Human Rights award resulting from the successful campaign it led against the proposed Westminster Council by-law which would have made it a criminal offence to give food to people on the streets in Central London.

Housing Justice was nominated along with three others in the 'Close to Home’ category. The eventual winner, announced at the South Bank on Tuesday 22 November, was Janis Sharp - acclaimed for her passionate and sustained campaign to protect her autistic son, Gary McKinnon, from facing extradition to the USA over a computer hacking offence.

The campaign against the Westminster by-law, recognised by Liberty, originated from the Soup Run Forum which Housing Justice convenes for churches and others involved in reaching out with food and other practical assistance to people on the streets.

Alastair Murray, Housing Justice's deputy director, said: “We, along with all the churches in our membership network, were strongly opposed to the by-law. For us as for many ordinary people it represented an attack upon compassion, common sense and common decency. And it would have done nothing to ameliorate the growing crisis of homelessness and poverty on our streets.”

If the by-law as originally proposed had been introduced it would also have made it a criminal offence for people to sleep on the street across a large area of Victoria in central London. This part of the by-law was dropped following universally critical responses to the council’s public consultation in March 2011.

While Westminster Council has now dropped the proposed by-law, it continues to assert that there is no need for people to access food on the streets of central London.

Housing Justice and Soup Run Forum members say they hope that Westminster Council will help to find more indoor venues for groups who are currently forced to provide food outside due to a lack of available venues in Central London.

Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice, commented: “We believe there is a greater need for services providing food and shelter, particularly as winter approaches and as the number of rough sleepers is on the rise. It was great to be recognised by Liberty for our work in leading this campaign, and we give our warmest congratulations to all the award winners”

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