WINDSOR, England — Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the most affluent boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle — all eight of them, according to official statistics.
Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley police this past week demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation,” ahead of the royal wedding on May 19.
Last month, while on a ski vacation in Wyoming, Mr. Dudley tweeted about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor,” which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavorable light.” He also announced that he would be writing to the police to ask them to “deal with it” before the royal wedding.
His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.
But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with one in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just eight homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.
Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless,” beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.
The Thames Valley police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area, but had not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.
On Friday afternoon, there was no sign of begging around the walls of Windsor Castle, the royal residence where the queen is known to spend most of her weekends. No more than three homeless people slept under the arches of food chains and gift shops opposite the walls guarding the castle’s iconic round tower.
Stacey Crawford, 42, who said she had been homeless for just over a year, sat curled up in a red sleeping bag in front of a McDonald’s while sipping coffee that a local resident had just bought her.
“I think the comments are rude and heartless,” Ms. Crawford said, with no emotion in her voice. “If they’re going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”
James, another homeless man who did not want to give his last name because he did not want his family to read about him in the news, said: “They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. What’s all that about?”
“We don’t bother anybody. We don’t go up on anyone. We just take whatever we are given,” he added.
Alison Heart, a retired nurse and local resident who was waiting for a bus next to a pile of sleeping bags left by homeless people, also took exception to Mr. Dudley’s approach.
“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here; it’s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter,” she said.
None of the homeless people in the area said they thought that Prince Harry or the rest of the royal family had anything to do with Mr. Dudley’s request to the police.
“Harry is the most common out of all the royals and helps out poor people,” James said. “I don’t think he had anything to do with this.”
He joked that he might even expect an invitation to the wedding, adding: “If not, maybe we can go and watch from the car park. We’ll be out of sight there.”
Mr. Dudley’s remarks have been deemed insensitive, spurring debate on a national level. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a television interview on Thursday that she did not agree with his comments and urged the local council to “work with police” to ensure that homeless people were provided for.
Homeless charities also denounced Mr. Dudley’s letter.
“People sleeping on the street don’t do so through choice,” said Greg Beales, the director of communications, policy and campaigns for Shelter, a homelessness charity. “They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and even violence.”
He added that stigmatizing and punishing the homeless was “totally counterproductive.”
In his letter to the police, Mr. Dudley suggested that they use their legal powers, including using Criminal Behavior Orders, to have homeless people removed from the streets.
Ms. Crawford suggested another approach for Mr. Dudley. “If this bloke had a problem with me and wants me gone,” she said, her voice rising, “then he should come and tell me to my face.”
She added, “Rich blokes always get others to do their dirty work.”
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