Soup kitchen users 'just want to buy booze', says Croydon police boss in row with Nightwatch charity
A dispute has broken out between an acclaimed homelessness charity, the police and the council over proposals to take legal action to shut down a town-centre soup kitchen.
Croydon Council had threatened to use "all available byelaws" to prevent Nightwatch handing out food, clothes, duvets and toiletries at Queen’s Gardens after concerns about antisocial behaviour.
The proposal to close the kitchen has since been scrapped.
But today the borough commander of Croydon police reignited the row by insisting the soup kitchen, run by Nightwatch for 37 years, was “not helping” and claiming many of those who used it did so to save money to buy alcohol.
It followed concerns raised by police and nearby pub the Spread Eagle, in Katherine Street, about street drinkers, beggars and “other rowdy and inconsiderate behaviour” it is claimed the handouts attract.
Chief Superintendent David Musker said: “In the long-term, soup kitchens are not helping to get people off the streets and turn their lives around.
“In my extensive experience, soup kitchens are not part of a sustainable solution and they actually contribute to antisocial behaviour and criminality in the town centre.”
“The reality is that a number of people use the soup kitchen in Croydon in order to spend their money on alcohol rather than on food.”
But Jad Adams, chairman of the charity – named volunteer group of the year at the council’s civic awards in July – dismissed the claims.
He said: “It is undoubtedly true that if you have an open-access service, some people are going to abuse it, but that it true of every facility in the whole of society – including police, fire and the NHS.
“Almost all the people we are helping are in genuine need and there is no reason why anyone would go out to a public park at 9.30pm asking for food unless they actually needed it.
“The people who use our services are just poor people. Sometimes they have got a job and a place to live but they do not have enough money to buy food.”
Chief superintendent David Musker
Croydon Council said the proposed legal action had been ditched at a leadership meeting on November 18, although yesterday afternoon Mr Adams said he had still not been informed.
A leaked report outlined two byelaws, designed to restrict activity on parks and green belt land, that could potentially be used to stop the soup kitchen. Anyone found breaching them would be subject to a £50 fine.
Mr Adams described the proposal as “immoral, politically inept and open to legal challenge”.
He said: “What we do is entirely legal. The soup run itself is not the location of antisocial behaviour. People minded to commit acts of antisocial behaviour will do so anyway.
"Perhaps if they were hungry they would be even more likely to do so.
“There has been a total failure to grasp the context of our situation and that of others dealing with the poor in today’s climate."
Jad Adams, chairman of Nightwatch
A council spokesman said: “Having looked at a number of possible options it was decided that we would work with Nightwatch and other agencies to find a new approach that would tackle the current anti-social behaviour and ensure that those people in genuine need of support receive the most appropriate help in the most suitable way.”
The number of people sleeping rough in Croydon trebled in the past year, according to the Combined Homeless and Information Network.
Nightwatch said its kitchen was used by about 80 to 100 people a night at weekends, with about half that during the week.
Mr Adams said many users, including a large number of eastern Europeans, were not street homeless but were destitute.
The organisation plans to move the soup kitchen to another site when Taberner House is redeveloped for residential use.
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