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 behaviour in the town centre and affecting nearby businesses. Nightwatch chairman Jad Adams said the ban would be "immoral, politically inept and open to legal challenge". 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 behaviour". The Spread Eagle pub, the report adds, is "greatly affected by the presence of what has been termed a 'Soup Kitchen'". "The customers of the public house, users of the gardens and pedestrians nearby have complained about the behaviour of those using the soup kitchen," it said. 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. "There is often conflict and difficulty in organising the people into a queuing system," the council report states. 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 short term enforcement phase is working well but we are now at the stage where we should be addressing more medium and long term solutions. "Removing the soup kitchen we believe forms part of that approach. It would mean there would be no reason for street drinkers and beggars to congregate in the area in the early evening and would assist with reducing crime and antisocial behaviour within the town centre." 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. It lists three options, including allowing the soup kitchen to continue, which the report says will "do nothing to reduce antisocial behaviour and frustrate the activities of the police and partners in trying to address the lifestyles of these individuals". 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 [sic] and preventing the use of Queen's Gardens for this activity". This would be undertaken, the document adds, after further discussion with Nightwatch, giving the charity the time to find a more suitable location. 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. Mr Adams rejected claims that the soup kitchen was a source of antisocial behaviour and said the report was "questionable in its assertions and highly controversial in its objectives". "There has been a total failure to grasp the context of our situation," he added. "We have an increase in client numbers because of the increasing impoverishment of society. "It is these numbers that have meant this issue has arisen now, for the first time in our 37 years. "We have to work together to face these challenges in society, not attack each other over different manifestations of the problem. "The soup kitchen itself is not the location of antisocial behaviour. The police claim some of our clients are misbehaving elsewhere. "We submit that people who are minded to commit such acts will do so anyway. "Perhaps if they were hungry they would be even more likely to do so." Mr Adams said the charity planned to move the soup kitchen anyway once Taberner House, the council's former headquarters, is converted into flats
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