Windsor is a picturesque town just west of London with a fairytale castle fit for a royal wedding. However, it is facing a backlash after a local council leader urged police to rid the city of its homeless before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arrive to tie the knot on May 19.
The criticism was swift and vocal, ranging from a petition, to a “no confidence” motion against the lawmaker.
Two councillors quit the council’s Conservative party group in protest (The Times) against Simon Dudley’s calls for rough sleepers to be cleared before the royal wedding after the council leader stayed in his post even after a no-confidence vote.
As for the homeless themselves? Martin, who gave just his first name, suggested the authorities “should back off a little bit.”
“I’ve got nothing against the royal family and I don’t think they have anything against us,” he told WikiTribune. “We’re all human beings.”
Windsor is known around the world for Windsor Castle, a sprawling royal residence frequented by tourists and Queen Elizabeth II where the crown jewels were once hid in a biscuit tin for safekeeping during World War II.
A couple of weeks after it was announced that the royal wedding would be held at the castle’s St George’s Chapel, Simon Dudley, the Conservative leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor, penned a letter to Thames Valley police urging action against “aggressive begging and intimidation” and “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets (Windsor Express).
“Homelessness is completely unacceptable in a caring, compassionate community such as ours,” Dudley wrote.
Moving the homeless before big national events is nothing new, especially in cities hosting the Olympics, according to the journal Sociology. Still, widespread criticism followed quickly on social media, where hundreds of thousands of people signed an online petition asking Dudley to withdraw his request. Community organizers and even the Conservative party dressed down Dudley (Guardian).
Around Britain, there are more than 300,000 homeless, according to the charity Shelter. However, in Windsor, there are only eight people sleeping rough, according to government officials (The New York Times).
Martin is one of them. He is jobless and keeps his belongings on a doorstop off the street. He told WikiTribune that he moved to Windsor nearly two years ago after being escorted there by policemen who suggested that he’d be better off in the Royal Borough. He said he likes being able to wash up three times a week at a venue set up by volunteers and gets along with area residents, who give him their spare change.
“Everyone seems to know my name,” he said. “They always say ‘hi’ to me and are always nice.”
Martin said he expects to get off the streets soon as a flat had been arranged for him and “the seven others.” While Windsor declined to provide details of the arrangement, the city said there were ongoing programs to support the needs of the homeless.
Murphy James, manager of the Windsor Homeless project, which helps the homeless and so-called “sofa surfers,” said the councillor’s comments were disappointing.
“We’ve got a lead councillor who has now put Windsor in the light of bigotry,” he said. “We should be getting people off the streets but for the right reasons. It shouldn’t have anything to do with the royal wedding.”
While Dudley could not be reached for comment by phone or email, he has recently defended his comments on BBC Radio in Berkshire, saying, “At no point have I said ‘move on the homeless’.”
He now faces a “no confidence” motion from the opposition group of the Royal Borough. Opposition councillor Wisdom Da Costa issued a statement on Facebook saying Dudley’s letter had brought “the council and councillors into disrepute.”
More than 232,000 people have signed the petition condemning the Dudley’s letter with petition organizer Holly Fishwick saying she aims to collect 261,000 thousand signatures — the total population of Windsor.
Money also is being raised for a party in London for the city’s homeless, through the fundraising site Crowdfunder. Social organization Rising Up invited people to dress casually or “even dress down” the day of the wedding as a protest “for those ignored by Government.”