When other local authorities are looking to provide ‘warm banks’ for the poor and winter shelters for the homeless, Croydon’s cash-strapped council is seizing vulnerable people’s possessions in their effort to tidy up their swanky offices. By STEVEN DOWNES
Tory Jason Perry’s council has this week shown the full force of what “compassionate Conservatism” looks like.
Officials working for the Perry-led council have seized a homeless person’s few belongings, including bedding and clothing, in their effort to “clean-up” the reception area of the local authority’s offices.
There was a time when Tories, such as Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, accompanied on a tour of Croydon by gobby councillor Mario Creatura, regarded the sight of a homeless person as a matter for giggles and in-jokes. The best that can be said is that on that occasion, at least they left the poor soul unharmed.
But these days, the council is accused of going out of its way to criminalise the vulnerable while removing shelter from them during winter.
The council’s move has been condemned as “cruel” by charity workers and Labour councillors, who highlight that it has occurred just as Perry, the borough’s £81,000 per year Mayor, is cutting all grants to the local voluntary sector that does so much to support Croydon’s most vulnerable.
On Thursday this week, the council put up a notice on the shiny plate glass windows of Fisher’s Folly, addressed, somewhat pompously, “To the occupiers of the front entrance area of Bernard Weatherill House, 8 Mint Walk, Croydon…”.
It reads: “The London Borough of Croydon is the freehold owner of this property. You are occupying the land without any consent licence or authority and as such your occupation constitutes trespass.”
The council’s notice claims that they have made “several attempts” to offer support, claiming that these efforts have been “refused”.
“The council has no choice…”, really? “…but to take formal steps to recover vacant possession of the property,” the notice says.
These “formal steps” include removing the homeless person’s few possessions, potentially leaving the person without their bedding overnight.
“These possessions may be collected the next business day from Access Croydon 9am-4pm,” the notice’s anonymous author wrote. No one had put their name to it, nor provided any contact phone number or email address for the victim of this latest act of council callousness, or charity workers assisting them, to pursue the matter.
“Please note that you have no right to occupy the land and therefore urge you to collect your possessions and vacate the area voluntarily.”
The area in question is a largely unused platform along from the entrance to the council’s public reception area.
It provides a dry, covered spot, not far from where the Croydon Nightwatch charity runs its daily soup kitchens in what’s left of Queen’s Gardens. Over the course of the summer, the area has become the bedding down place for two, possibly more, people.
According to charity volunteers familiar with the situation, at least one of the rough sleepers is what is known in councilspeak as NRPF – no recourse to public funds. The charity workers say that, contrary to the platitudes in the paper notice stuck to the windows of their warm offices, the council has refused to provide any support for this person.
Shocked after seeing the notice outside Fisher’s Folly himself, Councillor Stuart King, the leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall, told Inside Croydon, “It is wholly wrong for the council, under Mayor Perry’s direction, to target so cruelly the street homeless on his doorstep.
“Meanwhile, charities working to prevent and tackle homelessness are losing their funding following the Mayor’s unpopular and controversial decision to axe the Community Fund.
“Once again the Mayor is showing he has the wrong priorities.”
Some of the homeless sleeping outside the council offices have been receiving help from the South Norwood Community Kitchen.
Emma Gardiner, community organiser at SNCK, said, “The reason so many of the street homeless people we support bed down outside Bernard Weatherill House is because Croydon is failing in its responsibilities to rough sleepers.
“Instead of putting up signs that criminalise marginalised people, Croydon must take action to ensure that everyone in the borough has access to decent, safe accommodation, regardless of immigration status.
“If Croydon Council wants to hide their embarrassment at having homeless people sleeping outside their building, then they should house them, not nick their stuff and destroy it.”
Council staff, too, have been horrified by the heartless tone of the council’s notice, and the actions sanctioned by senior officials. One council staffer said, “We share the concerns. Our hands have been tied by politicians and senior managers.
“Budget cuts are the excuse for a drastic reduction in what [support] we can offer.”
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