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Homeless charity's response to 'soup kitchen ban' - in full

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THE council wants to ban a soup kitchen run by homeless charity Nightwatch from Queen's Gardens, opposite its new headquarters. Chairman Jad Adams has branded the plan "immoral". Here is his response, sent to council leaders, in full: Nightwatch has been operating since 1976, it is the largest volunteer organisation in the borough with some 150 volunteers. We are in contact with all churches and schools in the borough and many other organisations - staff at Taberner House [council's former HQ] donated food to us at Christmas, for example. Last year Croydon Council gave us the Voluntary Organisation of the Year award and we are happy with our positive relationship with the council. We often work with the local or national media about the good work we are doing in Croydon. We are a receiving centre for a large amount of food which is donated at Harvest Festival and stored; and perishable food given to us on a daily basis by businesses, caterers and well-wishers. They give us food expecting us to hand it out to the poor of Croydon, and that is what we do. Anyone expressing need can receive help. Invariably there are people with greater or lesser need, but no one queues up in a soup run for food who is not at some level of need. Our basic activity is an open access contact point where we see anyone who appears wanting food. This is currently in the Queen's Gardens. This has been one of our sites since we were founded. Nightwatch went to the gardens because homeless people were sleeping there. That is, they were there first, just as there are homeless people in many public parks including those where there is no food provision. We consider we cater for the homeless and vulnerable which includes those sleeping out, those in squats, hostels, bed and breakfast and other inadequate accommodation. A number of people are those who were homeless and who we helped in the past and who we continue to support as they see their main contact with society as via the homeless community. We give food to people who have somewhere to live but not enough money for food, rent and power. We can do something, therefore, to prevent their homelessness in future by helping to relieve their economic burden. We also help to resettle former homeless people in new accommodation with recycled furniture; and we help people looking for work with protective clothing such as steel toe-capped boots. We signpost people to agencies that can help them with particular problems. We try to have enough volunteers at any time to be able to engage with all clients who need advice or extra assistance. We refer people to Thamesreach, StreetLink, the Westminster Drug Project, Citizen's Advice Bureau, Croydon Association for the Young Single Homeless (CAYSH) and to Croydon's Support, Needs, Assessment and Placement team. We share food with the Croydon Food Network and one of our committee members, Tony Sewell, is its vice-chair. By maintaining contact with this hard-to-reach group of clients, we are able to make introductions for other agencies. This year, for example, we have hosted visits by the Borders Agency (for Eastern Europeans); the Home Office (for 'illegals') and the London Fire Brigade (concerned about fire danger for people living in squats); and this week we will see visits from the Terrence Higgins Trust and Public Health Croydon from workers concerned with the sexual health of homeless people. We have often hosted visits from London Relocations and other agencies who help eastern Europeans to return home. There are a number of dubious and debatable statements in the report titled 'Town Centre - Food Provision'. To deal with the all would be tedious, but the following: 'The volunteers have limited engagement with the attendees due to the risk associated with the venue/people' is untrue. There are sufficient volunteers for engagement with all clients who wish it, and our volunteers are trained and prepared for any risks that might occur. If volunteers felt vulnerable, we would ask them to stand down to make way for others who were more confident. We are part of a network of voluntary agencies providing food and other support, including the Croydon Churches Floating Shelter, the Salvation Army and various places of worship. The Croydon Mosque in London Road, for example, gives food every Friday evening from the apron in front of their premises, many of their clients are the same as ours.Numbers This issue has arisen because there are greater numbers coming to us for help and this relates to two things over which neither we nor the the council has any control. These are the increased impoverishment of society, and the influx of indigent eastern Europeans (that is, those not able to find work or who work only sporadically). Eastern Europeans tend to be the most unruly element. We first brought the council's attention to the problem of indigent eastern Europeans in the borough in September 2006. Most recently I raised the matter with council leader Mike Fisher at a Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA) meeting on September 2. We have written to Croydon MPs about the matter and to the London Mayor. We are quoted in the local and national press about it. If the Leadership team has solutions, we would be grateful to hear them. We feel we are dealing with the local result of a national problem caused by poorly thought-out international agreements over movement within the EU. Stopping people getting sandwiches in the Queen's Gardens is not going to help. People without adequate accommodation congregate in public spaces. They do that in the Queen's Gardens but also in places where there is no food distribution, and we would seriously question the logic that says that someone drinks or causes trouble in the Queen's Gardens in the morning or afternoon, because Nightwatch is going to be there at 9.30pm. There are certainly public order problems in the gardens. ow closely these relate to us is an open question. We feel we maintain discipline very well when we are there. At any rate, we do not think Nightwatch can be held responsible for young men having a fight in a public park over a girl. We do not tolerate any drug-related activity and clients know that. We have helped a large number of former addicts settle in to new accommodation after rehab.The questions:• What other locations you might like to suggest as a suitable alternative • How we might consider alternative ways of supporting the homeless by adopting a more modern approach, for example:• How might we develop opportunities for individuals who find themselves homeless, to have an opportunity to see a housing advisor who could facilitate them gaining access into a hostel and/or help them to gain access to benefits. • How might we better target resources so as to ensure that clients accessing services are those most in need (we have had reports that some individuals using the soup kitchen are not homeless and are receiving benefits How helpful it would be if we were to move from the gardens to another site is open to question. If we are considered to be such a magnet for trouble, how would it help that we were a quarter mile away from the present site? We are pleased the police are taking the alcohol exclusion zone seriously. We want to operate in an alcohol free zone, so far as this is possible. How would it help anyone if we moved to another area which is not in an alcohol exclusion zone? We are moving anyway, because of changes in the use of the Taberner House site. If the area is going to be residential, we will not be there. It would be helpful if alternative sites were suggested to us. We need a site which is fairly central, open at night and in a non-residential area. When we have a better idea of when the redevelopment of the Taberner House site will take place, we will step up our search for a new site. Only some of our clients are literally homeless and roofless, as a glance at our literature will show. We see those who have been marginalised. If it is possible to get them into the system, that is what we do. Some people we see are in receipt of benefits but cannot cope, some are working but not making enough to cope. Our presence at a central point allows us to contact clients who have difficulty accessing or understanding the system, and signpost them to appropriate agencies.Legal powers The remarks under the 'legal powers' section of the report concur with the remarks made by Nightwatch in a letter to the police on 17 July. Our activities are legal and need no permissions. There is no sale and no obstruction. It is worth repeating, also, that our activity is widely supported by the Croydon community. The alternative is to seek new laws. Westminster council sought new legal powers to try to stop soup runs in 2011 and their experience is instructive. They received only luke-warm support from political colleagues which quickly drained away when they received a good deal of negative publicity. Nor were the police supportive, as they did not have the resources to police council bylaws against church people and other volunteers who had no intention of stopping food distribution. This would divert police resources into arresting and charging people who had never come into contact with the criminal justice system before. The creation of a new law would create a new class of lawbreaker, to no one's benefit. There was also a concerted campaign against Westminster's plans. Soup run providers were supported by Liberty, who prepared legal arguments from human rights legislation that it would be a fundamental breach of human rights to deny a person food if someone wanted to give it to them. Members of the public were outraged at an attempt to deny food to hungry people, and to criminalise soup run volunteers. Some felt it was the duty of a citizen to defy a bad law until it was repealed and declared themselves willing, if the law were passed, to go to Westminster to distribute food even though they had never done so before. Thus, if the attempt to bring in a new law were successful, it would have the opposite effect from what was intended: there would have been more, not fewer people distributing food. Westminster negotiated with the soup run providers, and withdrew their legislative proposals.

Homeless charity's response to 'soup kitchen ban' - in full


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