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Rough Sleeping shouldn’t be criminalized

A response to Westminster City Council’s proposal to make Byelaws which, if implemented, will prevent rough sleeping and the distribution of free refreshment in a designated area:

Revd Tony Miles, acting Superintendent of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, said ‘I would never support the criminalization of rough sleeping through the implementation of what seem to be draconian measures. It is vital we care for those who are homeless and poor.  However, there are complex issues that need addressing for the safety and welfare of street sleepers, residents, and businesses alike.  What is important is that we support those who are homeless in ways that maintain their dignity, but we don’t want to prolong the time they spend on the streets. If people are sleeping rough we need to help them so that it is for as short a time as possible. An answer to the issues will only come through dialogue and by addressing the root causes and not legislation.

The increasing number of soup runs can have the effect of drawing people to one area, making it difficult for that area to cope. However, if the streets are cleared, all that happens is that those people are moved to another area.  Some churches in Westminster are opening their doors to a limited number of rough sleepers on a short-term basis. Members from the church at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, are volunteering to run one of these shelters on Friday evenings.  Being a conference centre, we cannot use our church, but we can provide people to support the initiative at other venues.

At Methodist Central Hall we also work closely with ‘The Passage’, an organisation that helps homeless people. Their mission is to provide resources that encourage, inspire and challenge homeless people to transform their lives.  This organisation believes in a ‘hand up’ (as opposed to a ‘handout’) approach, and its work focuses on addressing the root causes that has led to someone becoming homeless, (e.g. addiction issues, etc), in the first place, so to enable that person to address these issues and break the cycle of homelessness once and for all.

What we don’t want is a polarised debate between Westminster City Council and the churches/charities.  We need to work together for the good of all.’

The story on BBC News:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-12594397

The Methodist Church’s statement:

http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.newsDetail&newsid=489

Tony is a Methodist Minister, broadcaster and author. He is a radio presenter with Premier Christian Radio and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2's Pause for Thought (5.45am and 9.20am). Tony is married with two children.

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