Anti-Brexit activist Steve Bray posted this image showing a police officer appearing to make contact with a rough sleeper in Westminster on Tuesday evening amid fears that people experiencing homelessness will be moved out of the area as mourners travel in. Image: Steve Bray
Activists and homelessness groups expect rough sleepers in London to be moved on as hundreds of thousands of people head to Westminster ahead of the Queen’s funeral.
The eyes of the world are on central London with north of 750,000 people expected in the English capital as the Queen lies in state at Westminster Hall. Another influx of people is expected for the late monarch’s funeral on September 19, including world leaders.
As has happened before with major events in the city, people sleeping rough in the area could be moved on, meaning outreach workers may not be able to keep in contact with them.
It may already be happening. Anti-Brexit activist Steve Bray shared a photo on social media on Tuesday evening appearing to show a rough sleeper in contact with British Transport Police (BTP) officers outside Westminster tube station.
“I’ve been here for six years almost and it happens every time there is an event. I think it’s disgusting because it’s masking the issue rather than solving the issue,” said Bray.
“I think it’s disgusting that they want to hide it from society when it exists. This is the first I’ve seen this week but I haven’t been here that much. But a lot of the guys I do talk to are not here and I’m wondering where they’ve gone.
“Personally, I think the Queen would have been appalled.”
Bray added that he doesn’t know what happened to the person speaking to the police.
“A picture speaks 1,000 words and everyone can interpret it in their own way,” he said.
“But from my experience, the fact that the homeless are not around in this area speaks volumes. After all this is over they will be back.”
Bray’s post comes as people on social media point out that people queueing to pay their respects to the Queen are likely to be spending a night on the streets themselves.
BTP assistant chief constable Sean O’Callaghan said: “People can expect to see a marked increase in highly visible patrols, with more officers on hand to support those travelling and to deter any criminality.
“This is part of a comprehensive policing plan between BTP, the Metropolitan Police and City of London police.
“We ask anyone visiting London to remain vigilant and report any concerns.”
Elodie Berland, a volunteer at grassroots group Streets Kitchen, told the Big Issue she has already seen signs of increased security.
“It felt really quiet in terms of the guys we usually see around the area. I’m going to be keeping quite a close eye on stuff because I am expecting to see more overzealous actions. I think we need to be prepared for that,” said Berland, who provides outreach support in Soho and the surrounding areas.
It is expected that people will have to queue for up to 30 hours to see the Queen lying in state. The public will be able to file past the coffin at Westminster Hall for 24 hours a day from 5pm on Wednesday until 6.30am on Monday – the day of the funeral.
Commuters heading into London have already been warned to change their work patterns to account for the influx of people into the city. Government guidance warns that “large crowds are expected” with delays on public transport and road closures also likely.
Official government guidance warned: “You will need to stand for many hours, possibly overnight, with very little opportunity to sit down, as the queue will keep moving.”
Sitting on the doorstep of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, Westminster is one of the UK’s rough sleeping hotspots with 647 people spotted sleeping on the streets in the borough between April and June this year, according to London CHAIN figures. That accounts for more than 20 per cent of the total number of rough sleepers in Greater London.
Homelessness has hit the headlines in the past for its proximity to the powerful. There was widespread outrage in 2018 when Gyula Remes died in the tunnel at Westminster tube station where rough sleepers had been staying.
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