St Mungo's response to proposals by Westminster Council

02 March 2011

Westminster City Council has announced a consultation on proposals for a bye-law to prohibit soup runs around Victoria but within the same bye-law to prohibit rough sleeping in that part of the borough.

St Mungo's manages two outreach teams in Westminster - one focusing on rough sleepers, the other a pan-Westminster service that works with homeless people and the community around issues of begging, drinking and drug use. These outreach teams work alongside the council, other homelessness agencies and services, and the police. We help house people and also support them in tackling any mental health or substance use issues they may face.

We share the concerns of local residents about the excessive number of soup runs regularly arriving in the area around Westminster Cathedral, and the related problems of litter, crowds and noise. We are also concerned that providing free food can play a part in sustaining someone living on the street, rather than encouraging them indoors.

St Mungo's aim is to offer people support to stop sleeping on the streets as soon as possible and support into accommodation and services that can help with problems that led to them rough sleeping. As a charity which started as a group of volunteers offering food and support to homeless people, we recognise the goodwill and generosity of the people behind the soup runs. That was 40 years ago, however, when the range of services to help rough sleepers was limited. Since then, through the experience of listening to clients and staff, we have learned much about the most effective ways to really help very vulnerable people. We would now encourage those who want to help to volunteer in their local community, and to offer their time supporting services in daycentres, shelters or hostels.

Charles Fraser, St Mungo's Chief Executive, said: "While we recognize 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."

While supportive of a consultation to see what public reaction is to a bye-law on prohibiting soup runs, St Mungo's will, however, be expressing to Westminster that the bye-law should not seek to ban rough sleeping. Rather, St Mungo's is reiterating its call for government to introduce a Right to Shelter.

Mike McCall, Executive Director of Operations, said: "We are not supportive of any proposals that might stigmatise someone forced to sleep rough. The challenge is for all agencies to work together to provide a consistent approach which prevents rough sleeping, and helps those who are stuck on the streets into accommodation and support. This would be given a real boost if there was a universal right to shelter, rather than a reliance on goodwill and local discretion towards meeting basic needs of many homeless men and women."

He urged people to look at the proposals made by Westminster and respond to the consultation which closes on Friday 25 March.

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