LONDON (AP) — A political storm is brewing ahead of Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s May 19 wedding over whether to crack down on homeless people and beggars in the well-to-do English town of Windsor.
The wedding will be held at Windsor Castle, the town’s most famous landmark and a favored residence of Queen Elizabeth II. It is expected to draw thousands of extra visitors to a picturesque riverside town 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of London that is already popular with international tourists.
Borough council leader Simon Dudley kicked off the controversy by tweeting over the Christmas holidays about the need to clean up the town’s streets. He then wrote to police and Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May suggesting action be taken to reduce the presence of beggars and the homeless.
Dudley referred to an “epidemic” of homelessness and vagrancy in Windsor and suggested many of the people begging in the town are not really homeless. He said the situation presents a beautiful town in an unfavorable light.
Homeless charities reacted angrily Thursday to his suggestion that homelessness should be treated as a police matter so that Windsor can make a positive impression on visitors drawn to the royal nuptials. They reject the assertion that the homeless in Windsor are living on the streets by choice.
Greg Beales, a spokesman for Shelter, said people sleeping on the streets are in desperate need of help, particularly in winter, when the weather can be dangerously cold.
“Stigmatizing or punishing them is totally counter-productive,” he said.
Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld said on his website that he was “somewhat surprised” that the letter addressed to him had been released publicly before it was sent to him. He said supporting the vulnerable, including the homeless, is a police priority.
Harry and Markle will be wed on the closed-off castle grounds but have said they want the public to be involved to some degree. Harry has supported a number of charity events designed to help the homeless.