Daily Dispatch from Windsor: Homeless reluctant to leave as crowds pour in
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2018 7:02PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 16, 2018 7:30PM EDT
WINDSOR -- As the clock ticks closer to the royal wedding on Saturday, security is ramping up in Windsor.
Over the course of a couple days, the heightened police presence has become more evident, with groups of officers patrolling the streets on foot, on horse, and by the entrance to Windsor Castle, which has been closed to traffic using vehicle barriers preventing automobiles from driving in.
Police have also been seen removing the possessions and sleeping bags belonging to homeless people.
Authorities have said they are storing the belongings for security reasons and to avoid any obstructions on the sidewalks come Saturday, when throngs of people arrive to witness the wedding festivities of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
But with the crowds pouring in -- as many as 100,000 people expected in the riverside town 32 kilometres west of London -- some of the homeless have expressed their reluctance to leave their spots and miss out on the opportunity to panhandle over the busy tourist weekend.
In the meantime, a double-decker bus has arrived to temporarily house the town's homeless, encouraging them to take shelter before the big day arrives.
We spoke to Michael Longsmith, with the homeless charity The Ark Project, which operates the bus.
The charity, which until recently was based solely in Reading, also helps the homeless find longer-term shelter and find treatment for addictions if they need it.
Longsmith's aim is to encourage the homeless to take advantage of the mobile shelter ahead of the big day -- not only due to the dangers of the large crowds but for fear the money coming in may not go to food, he suggested.
"When the crowds start building up they're going to get trampled... some of them will probably end up dying from the money they're going to get."
While the homeless won't be forced to move, they will be made to feel uncomfortable, Longsmith said, with their bedding moved out of the way.
Longsmith gave us a tour of the space inside the double-decker bus, showing us the kitchen, a television, and on the second storey, 10 beds available to the homeless.
Despite the offer of a warm bed, there had been no volunteers to take Longsmith up on his offer when we spoke to him earlier this evening.
"That guy there told me to ‘F off’ earlier," Longsmith said, looking out a window toward a figure on the pavement. "Someone gave him 30 pounds (CAD$51.85). They're making 100 pounds ($172), 200 pounds ($346) every couple of hours. It's business. ...What can anybody do apart from show 'em some love and try and offer 'em the support."
While The Ark Project is parked just steps from Windsor Castle on Wednesday, they don't have a permanent parking spot and they will be forced to drive around, he said.
Local council leader Simon Dudley sparked a firestorm of controversy last year when he called for the town's homeless to be cleared off the streets before the royal wedding so they would not cast the town in a "sadly unfavourable light."
In an interview earlier this year, Thames Valley Police Crime Commissioner Adam Stansfeld said removing homeless people from the streets of Windsor was a matter for Council not police, but suggested they should not be removed from the streets if that's where they made their homes.
However, he added, "I think you should certainly not encourage them to be sleeping in the middle of the street in the middle of a mass royal wedding where huge numbers of people are going to be walking over them. I would suggest that wasn't a good idea."
CTV News’ Senior Web Producer Mary Nersessian is among the news crew on the ground in Windsor and London, reporting on the royal wedding with behind-the-scenes updates on CTVNews.ca, and social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Watch for her Daily Dispatch from Windsor and follow the wall-to-wall digital coverage on CTVNews.ca/royals.