Royal wedding campers get rolling news – while homeless people sleep streets away

If only we always paid this much attention to people sleeping on the streets in Windsor.

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The first thing I saw on BBC Breakfast this morning was a reporter guiltily grinning to the camera from outside Windsor Castle. He’d woken some of the people up who were camping outside, in preparation to get a good view of the royal wedding.

Their wake-up call from journalists was having a “camera in their face” after sleeping outside all night “in the cold”.

“It really was very nippy this morning,” the anchor nodded sympathetically later in the segment. “If you’re coming down, wrap up warm,” warned the weather reader, pointing out how cold it is “in the shade”, so “bring something warm for the morning”.

Think of the people who had slept outside throughout these chilly temperatures!

There can sometimes be something heartening about watching Brits and visitors from abroad alike gathering like this to celebrate such traditions – with their thermos flasks, fold-out chairs, flags, gloves and cheery comments when a camera roves among them, they are the true, die-hard fans of the concept of queuing.

But the coverage of royal wedding campers this year feels jarring when there are so many people sleeping on Windsor’s streets without a choice.

Rough sleepers in Windsor made headlines in December when the Conservative leader of its Council Simon Dudley asked police to clear the area ahead of the royal wedding, calling it a “rough sleeping epidemic”.

This provoked a response from local homelessness outreach workers and campaigners, who called for the council to help rough sleepers, rather than criminalise them. Why, when clearly the popular tourist spot can afford to host a royal wedding, was there not enough money being spent to help rough sleepers into shelters?

Windsor Council says it has offered places to stay to all homeless people there with a local connection, and a place for them to store their belongings – but the growing number of rough sleepers here since 2015 at least suggests there’s a deeper problem with how homelessness is addressed in the area.

Three years ago, there were around ten rough sleepers in the town centre, and those numbers have continued to rise – to around 15, according to local campaigners.

This reflects the sharp rise in homelessness throughout the country: rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh year in a row, with the 2017 figure up 15 per cent on the previous year – and up 169 per cent since 2010, according to homeless charities.

As Homeless Links’ former head of regions Joe Kent reported, for people to move out of homelessness, society has to invest in the “right type of services” and “professional teams who do not give up trying to help”.

Until the government’s welfare reforms and cuts to services stop pushing people onto the streets, their options are limited.

Also, 44 per cent of homeless people have a mental health diagnosis, and 41 per cent use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health issues. Both mental illness and addiction make it harder for people to seek help, particularly when mental health provision in our health service is so stretched.

Hosting a wedding that is estimated to cost £32m, you’d think we could stump up for the necessary addiction programmes, mental health provision and temporary accommodation to help the growing numbers of people on our streets.

A double decker bus run by a charity – with 10 beds on board as a refuge for rough sleepers in Windsor – was even seized and impounded by police today.

Right-wing tabloids are echoing Dudley’s suggestion in January that some of Windsor’s homeless are making a “voluntary choice” to sleep on the streets, accusing them of being present for the royal wedding on purpose.

“Windsor’s homeless accused of refusing refuge so they can CASH IN on Royal Wedding,” roars the Express – suggesting rough sleepers don’t want to lose out on the “big money” from begging during the occasion – while The Sun chimes in: “They want to cash in by begging on big day”.

The ludicrous idea of it being people who have nowhere to live who are the ones financially benefiting from this multi-million wedding seems to have escaped them. Just ask Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – who are requesting donations to the homelessness charity Crisis rather than wedding presents.

Homelessness is not a choice – and if it is, it’s one made by society rather than any individual. But while royal super-fans are sleeping on the same streets as Windsor’s homeless with the cameras only turning up for the former, society has a long way to go to change its mind.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.