CROYDON'S most senior police officer has said people use soup kitchens so they can spend money on alcohol instead. Borough Commander David Musker claims the soup kitchen in Queen's Gardens, aimed at the poor and homeless, is instead being used by drunks out to cause trouble. "The reality is that a number of people use the soup kitchen in Croydon in order to spend their money on alcohol rather than food," he said. "This, in turn, leads to these individuals committing crime or antisocial behaviour. "In the long term, soup kitchens are not helping to get people off the streets and turn their lives around. "In my extensive experience, soup kitchens are not part of a sustainable solution and they actually contribute to antisocial behaviour and criminality in the town centre." Jad Adams, chairman of Nightwatch, the charity which runs the soup kitchen, said the Chief Superintendent's comments were "markedly lacking in factual substance". The row follows a council report which recommended using "all available bylaws" to ban the soup kitchen from Queen's Gardens. Record numbers are using the kitchen, which provides food and drink, as well as clothing and blankets, for sometimes up to 50 people an evening. The report calling for it to be banned was written by Tony Brooks, a former police commander in Camden and now the council's head of public safety, but prompted directly by Chief Supt Musker. Despite their recommendation it was decided to "start off with a measured approach" but return to the threat of legal action if the problems endure. Charity Nightwatch - named the council's voluntary organisation of the year in 2012 - has run the soup kitchen in Queen's Gardens for 37 years. Mr Adams, who was not told of the decision to drop the plan until after he read about it on the Advertiser's website, described the ban as "immoral, politically inept and open to legal challenge". Responding to the borough commander's comments, he added: "We help people at every level of homelessness. Some are street homeless, some in hostels, some in squats and some are former homeless people. Some are just poor. "A few have substance abuse problems, but fewer than you might think. "We try to tailor help to people's needs and help those who are street homeless into hostels, those in hostels into permanent accommodation and those in permanent accommodation into work. "It is rather more complex than just providing food, though the sharing of food is the basis of our community activity. "We have good relations with every previous police commander, who either did not share Chief Supt Musker's views, or did not feel the need to express them so vigorously." Chief Supt Musker said: "We need to be looking at ways in which we can help those in need to get permanently off the streets and having dealt with similar issues in other parts of London, I do not think soup kitchens are part of this. "There are other ways we can support those in need. It is important that we have this debate in Croydon and that all relevant partners and voluntary agencies work together to help people off the streets and back into productive lifestyles." With the ban off the table, at least for the time being, both sides will now work toward a solution. One potential option is food vouchers, which are favoured over soup kitchens by some charities. The irony of the row is that Nightwatch plan to relocate when Taberner House is converted into flats, as expected within the next few years.
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