‘Forget the homeless, what about the coffee drinkers?’ LBWF v. The Christian Kitchen (Part 1): Councillor Terry Wheeler makes a stand

A local correspondent writes as follows:

‘Waltham Forest Council is big on celebrating its own perceived achievements and spending our money to do so. You would think that having a local charity like the Christian Kitchen which feeds the homeless 365 days a year would be worth celebrating, but unfortunately, in 2013 our less than enlightened leaders decided otherwise by revoking its licence to operate from Mission Grove Car Park, Walthamstow, for an hour every evening from 7.30 to 8.30pm.

In the battle that followed, which ended with the High Court declaring the Council’s decision unlawful, one councillor, Terry Wheeler of Cathall Ward, spoke out and defied the leadership, and in an email to Deputy Leader Cllr. Clyde Loakes and the Labour Group, included a line which summed up the Council’s careless disregard for the homeless:

I know that the Council’s main task is to provide the services that the coffee shop majority wants but the nature of our society is that we expect government and local government to sort out community responsibilities for the poor destitute and needy.’

In full, the e-mail reads as follows:

“Clyde

It is disappointing that this issue is rumbling along unresolved it is causing a number of us difficulties and could well become a difficult public issue if the Christian Kitchen move to campaigning mode.

This is a community problem not a Christian problem and the Christian Kitchen is addressing a gap in Community Provision and I am pleased to note that during Ramadhan the local Moslem Community also provided food to the Christian Kitchen and no doubt has done so on other occasions.

There are 50-70 people in various states of need and destitution who use the services of the Christian Kitchen each night (I assume representative of a larger changing group). I have always had some sympathy with the practitioner position; but clearly ‘they’ are failing to provide the services needed. Most of the clients would seem to have mental health or similar issues and are poorly served by an NHS which places a low priority on addressing mental health issues – it is always sexier to fund a heart transplant rather than complex mental health, arthritis care, public health issues etc. And perhaps helping people in desperate need of support is not something the Council does well.

It is disappointing that the Council and NHS mental health services do not seem to be using the Christian Kitchen activities for outreach – although I understand the Christian Kitchen do refer clients.

We know from when we introduced an alcohol free zone in Leytonstone from our report, which evidenced the fact that people with alcohol abuse problems (and mental health problems) are actually vulnerable and congregate in town centres for personal safety reasons. Our own evidenced report said that a ‘wet centre’ should be provided to meet those peoples’ needs – that was never done. Ironically it was the Police who introduced the fact into the equation.

There is a serious safety issue for very vulnerable clients in the Council’s offer to re-site the Christian Kitchen to the expansive car park at the Crooked Billet because of its isolation, furthermore it is a matter of some concern for providers for much the same reason. It is also an out of sight out of mind place that may satisfy the NIMBY lobby; but is hardly accessible for the client group.

What sort of sequential analysis came up with this proposed location – it seems terribly flawed. There also does not seem to be any consideration of the complex poverty and social needs of this group who present a variety of requirements.

It is reasonable to ask the Christian Community to consider use of their spaces as they do by providing Night Shelters at certain times of the year for this vulnerable group; but I can think of few locations that meet safety and access criteria and are not too intrusive for other residents. There are none that come to my mind in the Town Centre – St Michaels is a possibility; but is not quite central enough, probably not enough space and too close to other residents as are most church buildings. St Johns at Leytonstone is good location but probably not the right place given where clients seem to be comfortable – similarly the Church on the Green at N. Chingford. Perhaps Clyde has a Church location in mind. I understand that the Christian Kitchen offered to relocate to the Town Hall Grounds as a compromise; but this did not find favour.

I know that the Council’s main task is to provide the services that the coffee shop majority wants but the nature of our society is that we expect government and local government to sort out community responsibilities for the poor destitute and needy – we look to voluntary groups to help but for them to be effective they need to be helped not obstructed.

I think it is absolutely essential we dissolve this issue by producing a solution that clearly supports the efforts of committed volunteers doing the Community’s work or provides a viable plan that meets the Needs in some other way.

Best wishes

Terry”‘

It is fair to say that Cllr. Wheeler has come in for a notable degree of criticism over the years, perhaps amplified by the fact that his name so neatly rhymes with ‘dealer’, but it is to his credit that, on this occasion at least, he found what in BBC-speak is now described as his cojones.

Our correspondent promises that a more detailed analysis of this whole disgraceful saga will follow.

Leave a Reply