A peek inside historic St George’s Chapel where Britain’s Harry will marry Meghan Markle in May. Rough Cut (No reporter narration)
Video provided by Reuters
WINDSOR, England — It’s a place fit for a prince, but not, it seems, for a pauper.
Ahead of Prince Harry and the American actress Meghan Markle’s May 19 wedding here, this picturesque riverside town is grappling with a problem affecting a growing number of communities across England: homelessness.
Windsor is host to the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle. Queen Elizabeth II uses it on weekends. It has a Gothic chapel that is the final resting place of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII. The town, 25 miles west of London, has put on royal weddings for centuries.
But a rift in this otherwise serene place has opened up after Simon Dudley, a local Conservative Party official, suggested police should consider using legal powers to clear the destitute from Windsor’s streets so that “aggressive begging and intimidation” and bags and debris do not spoil Harry and Markle’s big day.
“It’s not just because they are homeless and we don’t want them here, although it doesn’t look great for tourists when they are always being asked for money,” said Kelly Carpenter, who runs a pub across from Windsor Castle, where the pair will wed.
“They are a security threat. Anyone could be hiding under those blankets,” she said.
During the April 2011 royal wedding — in Westminster Abbey in central London — of Harry’s older brother, Prince William, to Kate Middleton, about 350,000 overseas visitors showed up in Britain that month, according to the Office for National Statistics.
When USA TODAY visited Windsor in early February, about half a dozen people were bundled in sleeping bags amid cardboard boxes. Layers of warm clothing could be seen in prominent spots on the town’s High Street, one of the main thoroughfares on which Harry and Markle will greet crowds as part of a carriage procession through the town.
Windsor is filled with upmarket restaurants, tea rooms, quaint pubs and fancy stores selling kitchen goods, antiques and pricey clothing. Businesses here are busy renting out rooms, hiring extra staff, concocting special menus, designing royal-wedding-themed souvenirs — and preparing to be besieged by thousands of tourists, well-wishers and media for the wedding.
However, it is also a place caught up in the U.K.’s ongoing homelessness crisis. Over the last year, homelessness in England is up 14% and has risen by 136% over the last five years, according to government statistics. Homeless charities such as Mungos, based in London, blame cuts by Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration to social welfare programs for the spike in numbers.
But in Windsor, with a population of 32,200, there are only between 12-15 people who routinely live on the streets, said Murphy James, who runs the Windsor Homelessness Project, an organization that provides food, health services and housing advice.
“Dudley called it an ‘epidemic.’ “It’s not an epidemic,” said James.
James added that Windsor was a “caring and compassionate” town. He believes most of the people disagree with Dudley’s controversial suggestion.
Since making the comments in January, Dudley has survived a no-confidence vote in his position as the leader of Windsor and Maidenhead Council. He has also claimed his remarks were misinterpreted. The council has meanwhile moved forward with a separate proposal that forbids bedding, belongings and other personal items from being left unattended in Windsor.
The proposal includes a fine of about $140 for those who fail to heed the law, although existing legislation already permits police to remove the homeless from public places.
“If we were living in the 1800s, I could maybe understand it but not now,” said Kevin Dorian, 47, referring to the crackdown on vagrants during that time period. Dorian grew up in Windsor. He has spent time in prison for robbery, and he has been homeless here since 2003.
“This is a wealthy area, in a wealthy country. More should be done to help us,” he said. “We’re people. We’re not just animals who can be shooed away.”
And Stuart Thatcher, 40, a former heroin user who now occupies a coveted spot under a bus shelter directly across from Windsor Castle, said he would forcibly resist any attempts by the authorities to make him leave the town. “They will have to physically pick me up,” Thatcher said.
When asked about the upcoming royal wedding, Thatcher said, “Is Harry marrying an American? I’m really happy for him. Of course, mate.”
On Friday, the palace officially confirmed that Harry and Meghan will walk down the aisle on May 19, 2018.
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