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Royal wedding town in turmoil after proposal to clear streets of homeless people

A homeless person's makeshift bed is seen in Windsor in early January, less than 5 months before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding. Amer Ghazzal/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media via Getty Images/Chris Jackson

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are getting married in less than five months, and the small English town of Windsor, where the royal wedding will be held, is already in turmoil.

Simon Dudley, the leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council, wrote on Twitter in late December that there had been an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy” in the town and said he wanted police “to focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding.”

“This is creating a concerning and hostile atmosphere for our residents and the seven million tourists who come to Windsor each year,” he wrote in a letter to Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner, Anthony Stansfield, copying British Prime Minister Theresa May. “It is becoming increasingly concerning to see the quantities of bags and detritus that those begging are accumulating and leaving on our pavements, at times unattended, thus presenting a security risk.”

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“The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light,” he said.

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Dudley also insinuates that some of the worst “aggressive begging and intimidation” comes from people who aren’t even homeless, and says a “large number” of the so-called beggars are just scavenging for more money.

Dudley’s plan to eradicate the homeless population has triggered indignation from Windsor residents and local homeless organizations, and even May weighed in.

“I don’t agree with the comments that the leader of the council has made,” the PM told BBC TV. “I think it is important that we, councils, work hard to ensure that they are providing accommodation for those people who are homeless, and where there are issues of people aggressively begging on the streets then it’s important that councils work with the police to deal with that aggressive bullying.”

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The majority of Windsor locals are flummoxed by Dudley’s statements, and Murphy James, the Windsor Homeless Project manager, says that the current estimate for homeless on their streets numbers only 12 to 15 individuals. “The majority of those people don’t beg,” he added, saying Dudley’s request was “sickening.”

James believes the root problems of why people become homeless should be addressed rather than sweeping them off the streets. He also claims the local emergency housing accommodations aren’t sufficient and are infested with rats.

“It’s absolutely abhorrent that anybody has got these views in this day and age, especially a lead councillor of the borough,” he said. “If somebody is sleeping out on the street, they are not there by choice, they are there because something has gone wrong.”

One local resident, Peggy Outhwaite, told the AFP that she agrees with Dudley’s suggestion, adding that Prince Harry and Markle deserve a worry-free, hassle-free wedding day.

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“I don’t think that [the homeless] should be here,” she said. “This is a royal town and Harry should have his day — and a lovely day at that.”
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As of this writing, Stansfeld is drafting a response to Dudley’s letter. For the small town’s homeless population, there’s nothing to do but wait and see.

According to Brand Finance, a brand valuation consultancy, the royal wedding should draw hundreds of thousands of people to Windsor, a town of 32,184 roughly 35 kilometres west of London. The royal nuptials also stand to pump approximately US$680 million into the British economy.

Prince Harry and Markle are set to be wed on May 19 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

With files from Reuters

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