Westminster Council has been accused of a “truly cruel” attempt to push homelessness “out of the public eye” after notices were put up outside parliament in a spot rough sleepers often bed down for the night.
The signs saying walkways are “cleaned on a daily basis” appeared after a homeless man, Gyula Remes, became the second man to be found dying near an entrance to parliament last year.
Some fear the council is using the signs as an excuse to “move on” rough sleepers, many of whom have begun to gather there in recent weeks. Metal barriers have also been put in place to act as a chicane near the entrance.
The local authority has insisted the signs are not aimed at “anyone specifically” but rather “a reminder from the council and Metropolitan Police” that “any items left unattended will be cleared in the interest of safety and security”.
The signs, which are just next to where paramedics were called to to treat Remes, say: “These walkways are cleaned on a daily basis. Private property must not be left unattended within the walkways.
“Any property or possessions that appear to be left unattended for any period of time and for whatever reason may be removed without any further notice and may be disposed of as litter or waste.”
The chair of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery, told HuffPost UK: “Sadly, this is not surprising.
“This attempt to push the real issue of excessive homelessness out of the public eye is at best utterly shameful and at worst truly cruel.
“The council should be focusing on how best to assist these vulnerable people rather than launching attacks on them when they are in most need.”
New figures from the ONS published in December showed there has been a massive surge in homeless deaths.
An estimated 597 homeless people died in 2017 – a huge 24% increase over the last five years – the Office for National Statistics has said.
Men made up 84% of the deaths and over half were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide. Drug poisoning alone made up 32% of the total.
A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “These signs are not directed at anyone specifically, but a reminder from the Council and Metropolitan Police that given this is a busy public area, any items left unattended will be cleared in the interest of safety and security – especially given the proximity to Parliament and Whitehall.
“We take the security of our public places very seriously, working closely with the police to keep Londoners and visitors safe.”