Attendees of the Soup Run Forum
have voiced concerns over active discouragement from Westminster Council.
The latest forum was held on 1st November and was attended by about 30 people including Victoria van der Naap, a representative of Westminster Council.
The forum discussed a variety of issues and problems that make their job of giving soup and advice more difficult these days, and high on the agenda was the pressure coming from councils to stop serving soup. Members argued that the message they have received from Westminster Council is that the council wants to put an end to all soup runs, and the ultimate agenda is to remove them and rough sleepers. The council has claimed it is looking into the provision of alternatives, however nothing is yet in place.
Nik Ward, of Westminster Building Based Services, outlined what he perceived as the aggressive policy of the Council. He said: "We need to learn to work with it, because it won't change. Dispersal zones and street washing of hot spots where groups of rough sleepers gather are going on and will continue."
Concerns were then raised over how people who can't afford the nominal price charged for a meal by some day centres, or who can't afford to travel to other services, would be able to replace soup runs as their regular source of food. Another issue the teams are facing is an increasingly difficult relationship with outreach teams working in the area. Mr Ward said: "They have been a source of difficulty for members - they were found to be inconsistent and difficult to meet."
He added: "In the past, outreach workers were allowed to meet soup run users and bring them into hostels, but this no longer happens. This decision should be reconsidered." Better contact with outreach teams needs to be looked at and the option of having forum members liaise with statutory services and local authorities should be considered, said Mr Ward.
Last year, the organisers of the forum distributed a timetable of soup runs and they plan to do it again this year. Members of the forum also announced that a soup runs website - for national use, to encourage a more joined up approach - is also being developed.
The task for soup run teams now is to agree to work on sites that reduce the number of complaints from local residents as much as possible, and to ensure the teams are going out at times that really meet the needs of people.
The teams are also committing to trying to avoid duplication or inconsistency of provision and cooperating with authorities.
However, members have urged a degree of compromise on both sides, and requested a greater degree of help from authorities.
The next forum is on Thursday 18th January at St Vincent's Centre in Carlisle Place.