Free soup distribution around Westminster Cathedral could be banned in an effort to discourage area homelessness.
According to a story by the BBC, the Westminster Council said up to 100 people gathered at the plaza when food was given out, making it difficult for residents and businesses.
The Coombe Trust, a charity which has provided free food for two years, said it would defy the “draconian measures.”
A by-law could be in force by October if the Conservative-run council’s plans are backed in a public meeting. The council said local residents and businesses had to deal with littering, violence and disorder as a result of large numbers of people gathering for free food.
A spokesman for Westminster Cathedral said the council owned the plaza and the bill was a council initiative. He added that the cathedral would take part in the consultation.
Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for society, families and adult services, said that, “It is wrong and undignified that people are being fed on the streets. Efforts by local organizations responding to the needs of the most vulnerable within their own community are to be applauded.”
The BBC said he added, “However, soup runs on the streets in Westminster actually encourage people to sleep rough (homelessness) in central London, with all the dangers that entails.”
While homeless charities St. Mungo’s and Thames Reach backed the plans, other charities and councillors were against the bill.
The BBC reported that the Coombe Trust organizes soup runs twice a month outside the cathedral – under the name Street Souls – and has been operating for more than two years.
According to the BBC, David Coombe, the trust’s chief executive, said, “The need is there. We are not seeing the same people all the time, which is a good sign, but there are a few. We set up tables and an orderly line is formed. We take brooms with us, we take bins with us and water to wash down if necessary. We leave the place better than we find it.”
He continued, “The plans are incredibly draconian measures they are trying to enforce here. There’s nothing on God’s earth that will stop me doing this.”
The BBC said that Leader of the Labor group on the council, Paul Dimoldenberg, described the plans as “cold-hearted and mean-minded. People who take food from soup runs are really down on their luck. It’s more than banning them (soup runs), it is to criminalize the people who run them, so the generous-hearted people from the various charities and churches who currently run the soup runs will be fined if they continue their Good Samaritan practices.”
Meanwhile, the Methodist Church condemned plans to ban the soup runs saying they would disrupt a well-organized volunteer network.
The BBC reported a spokesman for the cathedral said, “Westminster Cathedral has a long association with local charities including the Passage and the Cardinal Hume Centre which help homeless people.
About 150 people sleep rough in Westminster on any given night and 98 percent of those people “have no connection to the borough,” the BBC reported the council said.