The presence of rough sleepers on Park Lane, in the underpasses and in the surrounding area has alarmed many residents and visitors who understandably find these individuals threatening. There have been numerous reports of soiling and aggressive behaviour as well as routine begging. This presents a very bad picture of London to the world and affects local businesses at a difficult time.
The council’s expert on rough sleeping is very clear that the Roma rough sleepers involved are not interested in getting employment or mental health services. They are here because of the West End’s lucrative begging opportunities. Many of them are part of highly organised entrepreneurial operations which target several European capitals. A communications campaign is being developed, aimed at telling tourists who are inclined to give to beggars that they should give to charities instead.
As one of the deputies to Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for community protection, I’ve been hearing of some of the difficulties the police, council and local businesses face in tackling the problem. However, some progress is being made. The underpass tunnels are cleaned everyday. A number of police operations have regularly moved the rough sleepers on, with the intention of disrupting and discouraging unacceptable behaviour. Their documents are checked but as Romanian citizens, under EU rules, they are currently entitled to be here for three months. Additional pan London police manpower is being applied for.
To serve anti-social behaviour orders, which have been effective in the past, a pattern of aggressive begging behaviour or other offences has to be shown. About 20 cases are being prepared for court. A further set will be taken forward once the lengthy process of putting the evidence together has been completed.
In addition a dispersal zone covering much of the area is under consideration. This can be used along with ASBOs to tackle the problem. It’s frustratingly slow – but there is action!