Out And About

Written By: Cary Gee
Published: January 14, 2018 Last modified: January 14, 2018

It’s lucky Jesus didn’t have the misfortune to be born in Windsor. If he had, then as a traveller, whose (unmarried) parents found themselves temporarily homeless and seeking shelter where they could find it, he would likely have been asked to clear his manger and ‘move along’ by Tory councillor Simon Dudley, long before the three kings had come to grips with their sat nav.

I don’t care if you are the son of God, we’re expecting some royal guests. ‘We can’t have intimidation and aggressive begging here.’ Bothering people with requests for gold, frankincense and myrrh. And while we’re on the subject perhaps you could clear up all this hay. ‘It presents a significant security concern, especially given the national importance of
Windsor.’

Ok, so I made up the bits not in paranthesis, but clearly Mr Dudley, feels that a person’s right to an enjoyable day out takes precedence over the rights of another person who spends every day (and night) out for want of somewhere to stay in.

In fact poor Mr Dudley was so put out by the sight of this human detrirus on his doorstep, that unable to bear it any longer he spent Christmas with his family in the exclusive ski resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We know this because Mrs Dudley posted an instagram snapshop of a snowy vista captioned ‘Baby, it’s cold outside!’ It’s even colder at night in a sleeping bag, though the view of the stars is to die for, as at least one rough sleeper found out when he froze to death on the streets of Birmingham a week before Christmas.

Froze to death. On the streets. In Birmingham. If one statistic bears repeating, surely it’s that one.

But Cllr Dudley, who lives in a rather splendid (if you like that sort of thing) mock-tudor pile on the banks of the Thames in Bray, and receives a director’s allowance as a board member of the Government’s Homes and Community Agency, charged with ending rough sleeping, remains unmoved. Prior to jetting away for the holidays he described a dystopian nightmare in Windsor of ‘rough sleeping and vagrancy’, insisting the police must deal it before the royal wedding in May.

Has Mr Dudley ever seen the detritus a royal wedding attracts? If he’s worried about tents popping up on every pavement in Windsor then best cancel the whole bloody shebang right away. Nothing causes an epidemic of rough sleeping quite so much as a royal wedding, as perfectly ‘respectable’ people who generally live indoors are forced to urinate beside the road for fear of losing their vantage point in the crowd of well wishers. Not to mention the insidious aroma of coronation chicken and egg sandwiches. The whole thing is enough to make you gag.
Murphy James, who manages Windsor Homelessness Project, describes Dudley’s comments as ‘disappointing’. ‘The one aspect of Dudley’s letter that was true is that Windsor is a caring and compassionate community. His letter was in opposition to the way most of Windsor feels about the homeless. (Dudley) refers to an epidemic, when in fact we’ve got between 12 and 15 rough sleepers at the moment. It’s no worse now than in 2016 (when James took up his role). The only difference is that now the homeless have moved to the town centre where they are more visible.’

James blames benefit cuts for Windsor’s homelessness. ‘People are being deemed fit for work when they are not. We work with these people day in day out and can categorically say they are not fit for work. They are told to apply for Jobseekers Allowance, when even their GPs recognise they are not fit to look for work. Universal Credit, rent inflation and the Housing Benefit cap all have an effect. Slough was recently brought into the mix (for calculting Housing Benefit) which brings the rent allowance down. As a result no one on benefits can actually afford to rent within the borough.’

Windsor’s homeless were offered emergency accomodation in London, but not the rail fare to get there. Unsurprisingly many opted to remain where they were, inviting accusations that they had made a ‘lifestyle choice’.

‘The fact the homeless are choosing to stay in a bus shelter rather than in the accomodation being offered says more about the quality of the accomodation,’ James says. ‘The vast majority of emergency accomodation is in London. There has to be accomodation in Windsor. People on the streets have nothing but their sense of community. That’s all they own and people are trying to take that away from them by shipping them out to somewhere foreign.’

James has communicated with Cllr Dudley via Facebook, and would relish a face-to-face meeting in the New Year, but as we already know ‘Cllr Dudley has been on holiday’. The offer of a meeting is still there however. I suggest James himself should consider standing for a council seat. He laughs. ‘It’s been suggested but at the moment I’m trying to solve the problems for people forced to sleep outside and in bus shelters. I don’t want to bring politics into it, just as politicians shouldn’t have brought the royal family into it.’

I disagree. The personal is always political, and nothing degrades a person more than the blight of homelessness. And it is a blight. Not just on our town centres, but on our national consciousness.

It is a blight that prevents growth, withers or even kills those it touches, and devalues us all.

About Cary Gee

Cary Gee is a freelance journalist and Tribune columnist